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Draft Vulnerable Groundwater Map
Fertilizer as Source of Nitrate in Groundwater
The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) recently released the framework for the Department’s draft Groundwater Protection Rule. The purpose of the rule is to minimize potential fertilizer sources of nitrate pollution to the state’s groundwater and protect our drinking water. This framework reflects a revision of the draft Nitrogen Fertilizer Rule that was released in June 2017. The following content outlines the revised rule and the changes the MDA made as a result of public feedback. It does not present the draft Groundwater Protection Rule in its entirety and should not be viewed as comprehensive. A full draft Groundwater Protection Rule will be released in May 2018 for public comment.
Nitrate is one of the most common contaminants in Minnesota’s groundwater. The majority of Minnesota households have access to safe drinking water supplies. However, in areas vulnerable to groundwater contamination, some public and private wells have nitrate levels that exceed the health risk limit for nitrate. While elevated levels of nitrate in groundwater can result from several factors, a major contributor in rural Minnesota is nitrogen fertilizer that leaches past the crop root zone.
The rule is based the state’s Nitrogen Fertilizer Management Plan (NFMP). The MDA uses the NFMP as the primary blueprint for preventing and minimizing impacts of nitrogen fertilizer on groundwater. The NFMP promotes the nitrogen fertilizer Best Management Practices (BMPs) developed by the University of Minnesota and was developed using a multi-stakeholder advisory committee and a public review process. It emphasizes involving local farmers and agronomists in problem-solving for local groundwater concerns when nitrate from fertilizer is a key contributor. Authority for the NFMP and rule comes from the Groundwater Protection Act, Minnesota Statute 103H.
The MDA informally published a draft of the rule in the summer of 2017 to provide an opportunity for public input even before commencing the formal rulemaking process. More than 1,500 people attended public meetings in Chatfield, Fairmont, Farmington, Hawley, Marshall, McIntosh, Roseau, St. Cloud, St. Paul, Wadena and Warren. Additional public meetings were held in Bemidji, Crookston, Mankato, Marshall, Rochester and St. Cloud as part of the Governor’s Water Town Hall Meetings. The MDA also received over 820 written comments on the rule and each of those comments was reviewed during the revision process.
The changes proposed in this revised rule are the result of the feedback we received and the MDA’s commitment to developing a commonsense rule that is based on science, but also practicable, as required by the 1989 Groundwater Protection Act.
The 2018 draft Groundwater Protection Rule contains two parts. It also contains important changes to the first draft of the rule released last year. The key changes are:
DWSMAs are critical protection areas for Minnesota’s public water supplies. More than 50% of Minnesotans rely on groundwater-based public water systems. Public water supply wells are monitored for water quality under the Safe Drinking Water Act administered by the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH). The primary goal of the rule to is to minimize nitrate losses in DWSMAs and to take action before a public water supply well exceeds the drinking water standard of 10 mg/L nitrate-nitrogen.
Draft Groundwater Protection Rule Factsheet (PDF: 117 KB / 4 pages)
June 2017 Draft
Fertilizer Technical Unit Supervisor
Pesticide & Fertilizer Management Division