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Home > Protecting Our Lands & Waters > Clean Water Fund > Groundwater & Drinking Water Protection > Township (Nitrate) Testing Program > Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions


1. What is the drinking water standard for nitrate-nitrogen?

10 milligrams per Liter (mg/L) or 10 parts per million, these are equivalent values. This value is often referred to as the drinking water standard, health standard or Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL).

2. Who establishes the drinking water standard for nitrate?

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is a federal agency that is responsible for regulating nitrate in drinking water. You can learn more by reading their web page entitled Basic Information about Nitrate in Drinking Water.  

3. What should I do if my results are between 0 and 4.9 mg/L?

The nitrate level in your water is well below the nitrate health standard for drinking water (10 mg/L). Continue to test your water for nitrate every year or every other year.

Remember, private wells should be tested for bacteria at least once a year. A Minnesota Department of Health certified water testing lab can provide nitrate and bacteria testing services. Search for the lab nearest you.

4. What should I do if my results are between 5 mg/L and 9.9 mg/L?

The nitrate level in your water is below the nitrate health standard for drinking water (10 mg/L). However, you have a source of contamination which may include contributions from fertilized lawns or farm fields, septic systems, animal waste, and/or decaying plants. Test annually for both nitrate and bacteria.  

5. What should I do if my results are above 10mg/L?

Do not allow this water to be consumed by infants; water with over 10 mg/L nitrate is not safe for infants younger than 6 months of age. Also, pregnant women and other people with specific metabolic conditions should not consume this water.

  • Retest your well to confirm results (Search for the certified lab nearest you)
  • Install a water treatment unit that reduces nitrate, such as a reverse osmosis system or a distiller, in your house and in other areas where this water is consumed by people or animals.
  • Consider upgrading your well if it was constructed before the mid 1970s.
  • Consider an alternative drinking water source until you can appropriately address the issue.

6. What actions is the MDA going to take to address high nitrate concentrations in groundwater (including drinking water)?

After the MDA receives all  the well testing results in a township, the data will be analyzed and information about well depth, well age and well construction will be reviewed. In some cases, visits to wells may be needed to confirm results. After the analysis is complete, the MDA will determine if local nitrate levels meet the criteria for the MDA to take action. If so, the MDA will work with a local advisory group to address the problem. In many cases, the MDA will work directly with farmers to adopt practices on their farms that would decrease nitrate levels in groundwater.

The Nitrogen Fertilizer Management Plan (NFMP) describes criteria the MDA uses to take action and other details about the MDA’s response to nitrate in groundwater. 

7. What other state agency has information about drinking water protection?

The Minnesota Department of Health is the lead state agency for drinking water protection. Visit their website, to learn more about their programs and how they work with homeowners to protect public health.

8. Why am I being offered a pesticide analysis of my well? Will everyone receive this analysis?

If nitrate is detected in a water sample from a private well it may indicate that there is a pathway for contamination. If well water is vulnerable to one contaminant, such as nitrate, it may be vulnerable to other contaminants, such as pesticides, because they are both present in agricultural areas.

MDA is currently offering a free pesticide sample to well owners who had detectable concentrations of nitrate in their well water during the Township Testing process.

9. Why does a trained professional need to collect the water sample for pesticide analysis?

A trained professional needs to collect water samples for pesticide analysis to ensure they are collected properly. Specifically that the water sample is not exposed to any contaminants during the collection or transport to the lab. The MDA staff uses established procedures and sampling protocol. 

10. What are the next steps?

After the MDA receives all of the well testing results in a township, the data will be analyzed. The results of that analysis will determine the next steps. The MDA’s framework for addressing nitrate in groundwater is outlined in the Nitrogen Fertilizer Management Plan (NFMP).