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Your Groundwater Questions, Answered.

Andrea Robbins


Director, Engagement and Systems

Thank you to everyone who attended our December 17th policy forum Seizing Opportunities for Integration in Groundwater Management. Attendees learned about and discussed emerging strategies and plans for integrating groundwater management across state and local agencies and how these strategies may inform future planning and permitting decisions.

The audience had a lot of great questions – so many in fact, that we did not have time during the event to answer them all.  I asked our speakers to respond to some of we were unable to answer at the event.

Here are their responses:

What link is there between strategies in the Nitrogen Fertilizer Management Plan (NFMP) and the Minnesota Agriculture Water Quality Certification Program (MAWQCP)?

Dan Stoddard, Minnesota Department of Agriculture:

The Nitrogen Fertilizer Management Plan was developed independently of, and without consideration for, the Minnesota Agriculture Water Quality Certification Program.

The concept of certainty, protection from future regulations, for MAWQCP certified growers would apply to any new rules developed under the NFMP during the period of certification.  This means that if the Minnesota Department of Agriculture was to develop new rules under the NFMP we would assume that certified growers are meeting all required water quality goals and would write into the new rule that certified growers are exempt or considered to be in compliance with the rule during the period of certification.  This is reasonable since the requirements to adopt best management practices to become certified should meet or exceed the requirements in the new rule.

One of the goals of the revised NFMP is to work with local growers to consider changing land management practices in targeted areas to address local concerns with elevated nitrate in the groundwater.  Therefore we would still want to work with MAWQCP certified growers and involve them on the local advisory team and any other local activities.  Since these growers have demonstrated leadership by participating in the MAWQC program, we would seek them out as potential leaders in local response efforts.

How is the Minnesota Department of Health going to address groundwater wells that have been contaminated by surface water? Will surface water treatment techniques be required for these wells?

Randy Ellingboe, Minnesota Department of Health:

Public water supplies are required to meet federal Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) standards, or Maximum Contaminant Limits (MCL) for contaminants in drinking water they provide in their systems. Whether the source of drinking water is groundwater, surface water, or groundwater influenced by surface water, the public water supply must treat the water if necessary to provide drinking water that meets federal standards.  There are a number of ways surface water may affect groundwater used for drinking water:

  • If the source is known to be groundwater under the direct influence of surface water, the public water supply will need to treat the source water in accordance with the SDWA Surface Water Treatment Rule requirements, i.e. like those systems that use surface waters as a source.
  • If a specific well was contaminated due to a defect in its construction or an integrity issue that would allow surface water to flow into or along the well casing (e.g., under flooding conditions), the owner would be required to fix the problem, to prevent contamination.  Where the groundwater source has been contaminated by an isolated event such a flood, there are corrective measures that can be taken to clean up the well.  When problems related to defects or flooding can be resolved (eliminating the effects from surface waters), the treatment requirements are the same as for other groundwater sources not under the influence of surface water.

The quality of water from private wells in Minnesota is not regulated, so private well owners decide whether to treat the water for drinking.

Has Metropolitan Council Environmental Services assessed the sustainability of river flows and climate change with respect to conjunctive use for water supply?

Keith Buttleman, Metropolitan Council:

So far, only superficially, and based mainly on current climatic conditions and flow patterns.  A much more rigorous evaluation is still needed, particularly with respect to potential effects of climate change.

How will the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources use groundwater management areas to manage water quality?

Jason Moeckel, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources:

The responsibility for issuing groundwater appropriation permits requires that Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) consider: current and projected water levels, ecosystems, the ability of future generations to meet their needs, and that the proposed use will not degrade water. These requirements apply to appropriation (i.e., water use) permits whether or not there is a designated groundwater management area. Because of these requirements the DNR involves the Minnesota Departments’ of Health and Agriculture and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Each of these agencies have specific roles regarding water quality, and they are partners in the groundwater management area planning process.

What other questions are on your mind from the event? What did you learn that you didn’t know before? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment here or contact me at 612-334-3388 ext. // arobbins@environmental-initiative.org

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