January 23, 2015
New report describes progress in protecting state's drinking water sources through first five years of Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment funding
Projects range from studying impact of viruses in groundwater to sealing unused wells
Safe drinking water - and the sources for that drinking water - are vital to the health of all Minnesotans. A new report by the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) describes how protections for Minnesota's drinking water sources have improved during the first five years of funding from the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment.
The 12-page report, "Clean Water Fund: Keeping Minnesota Healthy," summarizes the goals, ongoing work and outcomes of seven initiatives made possible or expanded through Clean Water Fund dollars from 2010 through 2014. Those initiatives:
- Advance health-based guidance for drinking water contaminants that raise concerns for human health.
- Improve private well information sharing and access by enhancing an online County Well Index.
- Increase knowledge of the potential health risks associated with microbes in groundwater and water re-use settings.
- Monitor recreational beaches along Lake Superior for unsafe levels of bacteria and prevent disease outbreaks through public notices.
- Increase knowledge of the occurrence and distribution of arsenic in private drinking water wells in order to improve and target guidance to those at high risk for exposure.
- Reduce groundwater contamination by sealing unused wells through a cost-sharing program.
- Increase the number of communities receiving technical and/or financial assistance for developing and implementing source water protection plans.
A few highlights among the outcomes of the various projects and programs include:
- Stopping the flow of 50 gallons of groundwater per minute - or 26 million gallons per year - into the Redwood River through an improperly sealed unused well in Marshall, MN. MDH provided funding to assist the city in sealing the well during street reconstruction.
- Reducing dangerous levels of nitrate in Cold Spring's drinking water by helping area farmers reduce the amount of nitrogen fertilizer used on nearby fields without significantly reducing yields. Source water protection grants helped 261 public water suppliers take similar steps to safeguard their local drinking water supplies.
- Eliminating a backlog of 100,000 well records, entering them into the County Well Index, and improving the efficiency and usability of the Index. The Index is the primary source for well construction and related geologic information for the entire state. It is used by well contractors to provide the most accurate information on geology, water levels and total depth to prospective well owners, all of which can impact the cost of installing a well.
While the Amendment passed in 2008, funds from the sales tax authorized by voters didn't start flowing until the beginning of the 2010-11 fiscal year. Since then, MDH has received $19,358,000 in Clean Water Funds. The report shows the amounts appropriated by the Legislature to MDH for each of the initiatives in each of the last three fiscal years.
Besides expanding on existing activities and improving prevention and protection efforts, MDH initiatives used Clean Water Fund dollars to fund grants, contracts and activities across the state. Nearly $200,000 in grants from the Contaminants of Emerging Concern program were provided to nonprofit organizations for local governments to plan or develop innovative outreach and educational projects that engage the public in learning about contaminants, sources and actions they can take to reduce the impact of contaminants on drinking water. When possible, Clean Water fund dollars are used to leverage other financial resources. For example, two of the three types of source water protection grants require matching funds; grants from MDH totaled $989,383 and the match from recipients was almost double that, at just under $1.8 million.
"Minnesota's drinking water is better protected today than five years ago because of work made possible by funding from the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment," said Minnesota Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger. "But we still have much work to do. The Amendment dollars will continue to help build partnerships among state and federal agencies, nongovernmental organizations, local units of government and active citizens, all working together to ensure safe and reliable water for future generations."
Copies of the report can be found on the MDH website at: http://www.health.state.mn.us/legacy, under "Spotlight."