[MAP] Click MAP to see the depicted vulnerable areas (shown in purple and green) where nitrogen fertilizer application would be limited during the fall to protect groundwater from contamination. [Link]

[AUDIO] Click AUDIO to listen to Governor Mark Dayton and Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson discuss a proposed new groundwater protection measure. [Link]

Governor Dayton Proposes Groundwater Protection Measure to Reduce Elevated Nitrate Levels in Drinking Water

ST. PAUL, MN – Following 17 public meetings that engaged over 1,500 farmers, landowners, and other Minnesotans in conversations across the state, Governor Mark Dayton and Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson today proposed a new groundwater protection measure. The proposal, which is based on the input of the farmers and landowners who the rule would apply to, would help reduce elevated nitrate levels in groundwater and ensure more Minnesota residents have clean, safe, reliable drinking water supplies. Nitrate is one of the most common contaminants in Minnesota’s groundwater; elevated nitrate levels in drinking water can pose serious health concerns for humans.

“I am grateful to the many farmers, landowners, and others who worked with the Department of Agriculture to develop this proposal, which would greatly improve the quality of drinking water for Minnesotans,” said Governor Dayton. “Clean, safe, reliable water in our communities is everyone’s concern, and everyone’s responsibility. I urge all Minnesotans who wish to further improve or refine this proposal to engage in the public comment period beginning this spring, and attend the additional public hearings that will be scheduled this summer.”

Nitrate is a compound that naturally occurs and has many human-made sources. Nitrate is found in lakes, rivers, and groundwater across Minnesota. Consuming too much nitrate can affect how blood carries oxygen and can cause methemoglobinemia (also known as blue baby syndrome).

“The Minnesota Department of Agriculture held 17 meetings across the state last year as we developed this proposal. Over 1,500 Minnesotans participated, and we received over 820 written comments that helped make the proposal even better,” said Commissioner Frederickson. “This proposal responds to what we heard. It balances the needs of farmers and modern agricultural production, with the need of all Minnesotans to have safe drinking water. I look forward to working with Minnesotans across our state in the coming months to further refine and improve this proposal, to ensure it works to provide clean, reliable water for all of our communities.”

About the Proposed Groundwater Protection Measure
The groundwater protection proposal introduced today by Governor Dayton and Commissioner Frederickson would apply to vulnerable areas and areas with high nitrate levels in public drinking waters. It also would create a system of voluntary and mandatory mitigation practices in areas with high nitrate concentrations in the public water supplies. Read more about the proposed rule below.


Groundwater Protection Effort – Part One:
Fertilizer Application During the Fall Season
Where the Proposal Would Apply:

Vulnerable Areas – The proposed groundwater protection measure would restrict the application of fertilizer in areas with more porous soils (coarse textured soil, karst, shallow bedrock), which have the capacity to leach greater volumes of water during the fall season. These new procedures for fertilizer application would reduce the movement of nitrates through the soil into groundwater supplies.

Public Water Supply Areas – The proposed groundwater protection measure also would restrict the application of fertilizer during the fall in Drinking Water Supply Management Areas where the nitrate concentration exceeds 5.4 mg/L.

Exceptions to the Fertilizer Application Requirements:

Crops That Require Fall Nitrogen – An exemption would exist for crops such as winter grains, grass seed, and cover crops that require fall nitrogen.

Areas with Low Leaching Potential – An exemption would exist for areas with low leaching potential based on precipitation and evapotranspiration rates and a short spring planting season.

Areas with No Row Crops – An exemption would exist for counties where less than three percent of land is used for row crops (northeast Minnesota and Ramsey County).

Groundwater Protection Effort – Part Two:

Mitigation Requirements for Elevated Nitrate Levels in Drinking Water
Voluntary Action:

Level One and Two – In areas where the public water supply has nitrate concentrations in excess of 5.4 mg/L. Drinking Water Supply Management Areas would be encouraged to voluntarily implement best management practices to reduce nitrate levels. Under Level Two, the decision to implement best management practices would remain voluntary.

Mandatory Action:

Level Three – If after three years under Level Two nitrate concentrations continue to increase, then the Drinking Water Supply Management Area would be given a Level Three designation. The Commissioner of Agriculture – in consultation with a local advisory team – would then direct landowners to implement best management practices, testing, and educational programs.

Level Four – If after three years under Level Three nitrate concentrations continue to increase or remain high, the Commissioner of Agriculture – in consultation with local advisory teams – could direct landowners to implement additional practices beyond best management practices to address high nitrate levels.


Progress Under Way – In areas where progress is being made, the Commissioner of Agriculture could grant a one-time exemption before moving the area to the next level of regulation.

Groundwater Protection Effort – Part Three:
Designation of High Priority Areas
• Criterion for High Priority Areas – The Commissioner of Agriculture could designate Level Two areas to be “high priority” and focus resources in those communities. The Commissioner would make the determination based on risk to people and communities and the degree of contamination. The Department of Agriculture also would approve a detailed plan for addressing high nitrate levels in these areas.

Timeline for Groundwater Protection Effort
The Minnesota Department of Agriculture expects the rule to be published for formal comment in mid-to-late May with hearings to be held this summer and final adoption in late 2018. More information about the rulemaking process is included below.

Mid to Late May 2018 – The Department of Agriculture publishes the draft groundwater protection rule and Statement of Need and Reasonableness for a 30-day public comment period.
Summer 2018 – The Department of Agriculture holds public hearings on the draft groundwater protection rule.
Fall 2018 – The Office of Administrative Hearings reviews the comments and gives the Department of Agriculture 180 days to make revisions to the groundwater protection rule based on Administrative Law Judge and public hearings.
December 2018 – The Department of Agriculture submits the final groundwater protection rule to Office of Administrative Hearings, the Office of the Revisor of Statutes, and to the Governor.

About Public Comments Already Received on Proposed Groundwater Effort
The Minnesota Department of Agriculture informally published a draft of the Groundwater Protection Rule in the summer of 2017, and provided an opportunity for public comment to help shape the proposed rule. The Department received more than 820 written comments regarding the rule, and over 1,500 people attended public meetings in Chatfield, Fairmont, Farmington, Hawley, Marshall, McIntosh, Roseau, St. Cloud, St. Paul, Wadena, and Warren. Additional public comments were received in Bemidji, Crookston, Mankato, Marshall, Rochester, and St. Cloud as part of the Governor’s Water Town Hall Meetings. As rulemaking proceeds, the Department of Agriculture will continue engaging farmers, landowners, and other key stakeholders in the process to continue to gather input.