Preventing groundwater contamination and practicing water conservation are important to protecting one of Minnesota’s most critical resources. The tactics used to improve water quality include state and local government programs, conservation practices by businesses, residents, and local governments, and remediation of groundwater contaminated by leaks, spills, or dumping of hazardous material.
When pollutants such as petroleum, industrial chemicals, or fluid leaching from landfills gets into the ground, they can contaminate groundwater. The MPCA is working to remediate, or remedy, groundwater contamination at many sites around the state. Remediation takes several forms, depending on the contaminant, the geology of the site, and how the contamination threatens nearby water resources. One method involves pumping groundwater out of the ground, treating it, and then returning it to the ground or to a lake or river. This pump and treat method is being used at the New Brighton/Arden Hills Superfund site to remove trichloroethylene from the water and protect municipal water supplies. Another method pumps air into groundwater to aerate and expel volatile compounds. These are just two examples of the technologies the MPCA uses to remedy groundwater contamination.
Partners in protection
Several state agencies, including the MPCA, share in the responsibility to protect groundwater.
- The Minnesota Department of Health is responsible for ensuring that Minnesotans have safe and adequate drinking water. Its Wellhead Protection program aims to prevent drinking water from becoming polluted by managing potential sources of contamination in areas that supply water to public wells.
- The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources manages the issuing of permits to users of large amounts of groundwater in the state. Groundwater Management Areas — in the north and east Twin Cities, the Straight River area, and the Bonanza Valley area — are helping the agency address groundwater availability issues.
- The Department of Agriculture's Nitrogen Fertilizer Management Plan is the state’s blueprint for prevention or minimization of the impacts of nitrogen fertilizer on groundwater. As part of the plan, the Groundwater Protection Rule restricts fall application of nitrogen fertilizer in areas vulnerable to contamination, and outlines steps to reduce nitrogen in areas where nitrate in public water wells is already elevated.
- In the Twin Cities metropolitan area, the Metropolitan Council is addressing groundwater depletion with its Water Supply Plan. The plan includes analysis of water availability and identifying water issues in individual metro-area communities.
Hugo’s conservation efforts
The city of Hugo, Minn., has built stormwater reuse, irrigation, and infiltration systems to reduce the amount of groundwater pumped by the city and provide enhanced stormwater treatment. The projects conserve millions of gallons of groundwater from wells each year in the city. Hugo is also considering measures such as landscaping ordinances that encourage use of more drought-tolerant vegetation, and adjusting water rates to promote conservation. Learn more.
Promoting proper nitrogen management
The Minnesota Department of Agriculture partnered with the East Otter Tail Soil and Water Conservation District to present workshops and expand programs that promote proper use of nitrogen to protect groundwater. Topics covered in the workshops included nitrogen management on sandy soils, irrigation water management, and nitrogen concerns related to groundwater.