News release: Health Department releases annual report of drinking water in Minnesota during Safe Drinking Water Week

News Release
May 3, 2011
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Health Department releases annual report of drinking water in Minnesota during Safe Drinking Water Week

Test results continue to reveal that the vast majority of community water systems in the state have met all the regulations of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. Although some problems have been revealed during routine monitoring, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) reports that drinking water in Minnesota's 961 community water supply systems is generally safe.

MDH released its report during Safe Drinking Water Week, proclaimed by Gov. Mark Dayton in recognition of the importance of drinking water and of protecting water supplies. "Safe Drinking Water Week is an opportunity to remember that we should never take safe drinking water for granted," said Minnesota Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger. "Water plays a vital role in our everyday lives, and we are pleased that Governor Dayton has reinforced this with his proclamation."

Minnesota's public water supply systems are tested on a regular basis for bacteria, nitrates, and other inorganic chemicals, radiological elements, and up to 118 different industrial chemicals and pesticides. The MDH annual report is based on the results of monitoring under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act for the past year.

The drinking water annual report includes test results for 726 city water systems throughout the state. Also included were 235 non-municipal systems that provide drinking water to people in their place of residence—in locations such as manufactured home parks, apartment buildings, housing subdivisions, colleges, hospitals, prisons, and child care facilities.

Among the other findings in the report:

  • Water samples from those systems were subjected to more than 17,000 separate tests for more than 100 potential contaminants. The results of that testing showed that most systems met all requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act, although there were several instances where that was not the case, as described below.
  • One system exceeded current federal standards for pesticides and industrial contaminants. The affected system was back in compliance within a few days, and its residents were notified of the situation.
  • Detectable levels of coliform bacteria were found in 15 community water systems, including 10 municipal systems. While not all coliform bacteria cause illness, they provide an indicator of possible contamination in the system. Systems with coliform problems are routinely disinfected, flushed, and retested to ensure that the contamination is gone before being returned to normal service. The process typically takes less than a week. The municipal systems that tested positive for bacterial contamination were Avoca, Ceylon, Correll, Johnson, Kasota, Lake City, Lake Elmo, Pine River, Vernon Center, and Wilmont. All of the residents served by the affected systems were informed of the situation at the time it occurred.
  • Three community water systems, including one municipal system, Park Rapids, exceeded the standard for nitrate in 2010. Park Rapids had a well that exceeded the allowable limit for nitrate. The city worked with the Minnesota Department of Health and developed a compliance agreement to take the affected well out of service and use it only for emergency purposes after notifying residents. Park Rapids also informed its residents of the situation as soon as the violation was identified.
  • While several cities in Minnesota continue to wrestle with arsenic in their groundwater, the vast majority of municipal drinking water systems in the state report few problems. By the end of 2010, 15 community water systems, including 10 municipal systems, still exceeded the standard for arsenic. The affected municipal systems are Big Falls, Buffalo Lake, Climax, Dilworth, Hackensack, Herman, Lowry, Oak Grove, Stewart, and Wendell. These systems are working with MDH to come into compliance and are also communicating regularly with their residents about the situation.
  • Nine community water systems—including 8 municipal systems—exceeded the standard for radium 226 and 228 at the end of 2009. The affected municipal systems are Amboy, Claremont, East Bethel, Hinckley, Lewiston, Medford, New Germany, and Rushford Village. No restrictions were placed on water consumption, although residents were notified of the situation. Residents were told that this was not an emergency and were advised to consult with their doctors if they have any special concerns. Each of these systems has either started to make infrastructure changes or is studying alternatives to meet the maximum contaminant level.
  • No community water systems exceeded the standard for inorganic chemicals or disinfection by-products in 2010.

In those instances where public water supplies face challenges affecting water quality or quantity, including aging infrastructure, MDH is working with those systems to resolve the challenges.

Commissioner Ehlinger is pleased with the results of the testing. "It's important for people to know that safe drinking water is no accident," he said. "Minnesotans can have confidence in their drinking water because of the work of the dedicated professionals who treat and test the water as well as maintain the infrastructure. Protecting our drinking water is a continuing challenge, and everyone plays a role in keeping our drinking water safe."

The 2010 report and those from previous years are available online at


For more information, contact:

Doug Schultz
MDH Communications

Stew Thornley
Drinking Water Protection