Source Water Protection (SWP)
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Stories from the Source
Source Water Protection
Wrenshall Protects Drinking Water Through Emergency Preparation and Community Engagement
Wrenshall has taken a proactive stance on emergency preparedness regarding the active and abandoned pipelines in their Drinking Water Source Management Area (DWSMA). The city works with the owners of the pipeline and community residents to discuss how they would all work together in case of an unexpected leak or break that may affect the drinking water. Additionally, city staff and the local fire department created an action plan and participate in spill response training to prepare and decrease reaction time in the event of an unexpected leak or break. The city is also engaged and aware of county zoning and land use changes that may impact their DWSMA. This proactive and engaging approach to drinking water protection efforts between city council members, staff, and residents fosters trust and transparency to protect the community’s drinking water.
Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) awarded the city of Wrenshall $4,761 in Source Water Protection Plan Implementation Grants to complete various activities to protect its source of drinking water. Activities included purchasing spill sorbent kits, wiring the well house for a generator to provide backup power, and televising the city well to monitor for flaws in the well casing. Wrenshall also built a wellhead protection display at city hall to show a map of the DWSMA and exhibit other wellhead related items.
The city of Wrenshall is an exceptional example of a community proactively protecting its drinking water sources through communication, planning, and engagement. The community has diligently worked to educate residents, including children, on the importance of wellhead protection. Until the COVID-19 pandemic, city staff and members from the Minnesota Rural Water Association (MRWA) traveled to the local school and presented groundwater models, explained aquifers, and the importance of protecting drinking water to 4th graders to foster interest in drinking water protection. The city has done an outstanding job of communicating technical information on above and below ground storage tanks, well management, and the importance of sealing unused wells. With these efforts to increase awareness and community engagement around source water protection, Wrenshall’s work with MRWA and MDH demonstrates true success in protecting public health.
Combating Nitrate Contamination for Drinking Water Protection in Altura
The city of Altura is a public water system in Winona County. Its wells are highly vulnerable and two of them have had consistently high levels of nitrate over the past 10 years. The city is actively addressing potential contamination sources within its vulnerable Drinking Water Source Management Area (DWSMA). To reduce nitrate levels, Altura has conducted several projects collaborating with various state agencies to protect its community.
The city of Altura is partnering with Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA), and Minnesota Rural Water Association (MRWA) to develop an amended its Wellhead Protection Plan to reduce nitrate levels in the area. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture formed a local advisory team to identify and implement practices to decrease nitrate leaching from agricultural lands within the city’s DWSMA. The city also worked with Minnesota Department of Health and Minnesota Rural Water Association to identify potential sources of contamination that may affect drinking water sources.
Unsealed wells can be a source of contamination to the groundwater supply. With help from MRWA and MDH, Altura searched for the exact location of the original city well. The city applied for an MDH Source Water Protection Plan Implementation Grant in Fall of 2015 for an initial amount of $3,000 to locate the well. Once the well was located, they discovered obstructions that would need to be removed to seal it properly and received an Implementation Grant in Fall of 2016 of $9,825 to remove the debris. In Spring of 2018, the city received an additional Implementation Grant of $2,500 and successfully sealed the well. The potential source of contamination was eliminated, and by performing the well-sealing project in stages, the city covered the total cost through grant funding.
Altura is currently in the process of sealing an old municipal well through the Drinking Water Subgrant portion of the Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) Projects and Practices Clean Water Funds. Winona County was the applicant for this project on behalf of the city. The grant application tied together well sealing work to be performed in Altura’s Wellhead Protection Plan, Winona County Water Plan, and the Win-Lac One Watershed One Plan comprehensive watershed management plan. The multi-aquifer well was about 700 feet deep and located close to one of Altura’s primary wells. If left unsealed, the well could be a risk to the drinking water supply as well as the Prairie due Chien, Jordan, St. Lawrence, Tunnel City and Lone Rock, and Wonewoc aquifers. The city was awarded $68,000 to seal an old municipal well with a 25% match. The city was able to produce the 25% match through administrative costs and the use of city equipment and staff for site preparation and cleanup. Altura is also using a portion of this grant to videotape and narrate the well-sealing process for educational purposes.
Additionally, the city participated in the MDH Source Water Protection Grants Program to improve the resiliency of its drinking water system. For example, Altura needed a backup generator to help ensure potable water would continue to be provided to the community in an emergency or power outage. The city applied for a combination of Plan Implementation and Competitive Grants to complete this project to purchase and connect to a backup generator. Altura is leading as an example in protecting their drinking water sources from nitrate contamination through their collaborative efforts with Winona County, MDH, MDA, and MRWA. Their projects to remove potential sources of contamination and improve the resiliency of their public water system demonstrate a commitment to protecting their community.
Battle Lake Mobile Home Park has several wells that provide drinking water to its residents. In the late 2000s, one of the wells that provides drinking water started to have high test results for nitrate. Elevated nitrate in the drinking water supply can impact health by affecting how blood carries oxygen and can cause a condition called methemoglobinemia. Bottle-fed babies under six months old are at the highest risk of getting methemoglobinemia.
To protect the residents, Battle Lake decided to abandon this well and drill a new, deeper well in 2012. The nitrate levels in the new well were significantly lower and below the Maximum Contaminant Limit (MCL) for nitrate, making a new source of safe drinking water available to the residents.
About 6 years later, the new well started to show increasing nitrate levels. Battle Lake investigated where the nitrate contamination was coming from and suspected that the original well, which was unsealed, could have holes in the well casing. This would allow a pathway for nitrate-laden water to travel to the new primary well water supply.
Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) district engineer, Lucas Hoffman, recommended that Battle Lake Mobile Home Park seal the original well to eliminate the pathway for nitrates into the water supply. Aaron Meyer, a source water protection specialist from Minnesota Rural Water Association (MRWA), helped Battle Lake create a plan of action and aided in the process of applying for a Source Water Protection Competitive Grant to have the old well sealed. Source Water Protection Grants are made possible by Clean Water Fund and enable small systems like Battle Lake Mobile Home Park to take actions that protect the quality of their drinking water sources. Battle Lake received $1,792.50 from the Source Water Protection Competitive Grant and matched that amount to have the old well sealed.
The project successfully sealed the old well that acted as a pathway for nitrates to enter the aquifer. With the old well sealed, there was a dramatic drop in nitrate levels, dropping by 2.5 mg/L over the next six months to deliver water below the MCL. Within two years of the well sealing, nitrate levels in the new well dropped by 6 mg/L. These actions protected the aquifer from nitrate contamination while protecting the source of drinking water for the residents of Battle Lake Mobile Home Park. Through grant applications and consultation with MDH and MRWA, safe drinking water was restored for a community.
The city of Pennock is a small public water system that supports less than 500 people and utilizes two municipal wells to supply drinking water to its customers. The city of Pennock has been actively engaged in source water protection planning and implementation since 2005.
Locating and sealing unused wells were identified as priorities in Pennock's wellhead protection plan, the plan to protect the drinking water source. Through combined efforts by Pennock, MDH, and MRWA staff, a former municipal well was located near city hall that could be a risk for contaminants to directly enter the groundwater aquifer, posing a risk to the city’s drinking water supply. In the summer of 2017, with the assistance of MDH Well Management staff Bob Nielsen, a scan of the property was conducted, which confirmed that there was a metal well casing underground.
In the spring of 2022, the Pennock City Council decided to move ahead with the follow-up well-locating project. City staff were authorized to apply for a Source Water Protection Implementation Grant to investigate the previously identified well site via excavation and follow up with necessary well sealing preparation work. The Implementation Grant application was completed with the assistance of MRWA staff, resulting in the city being awarded $6,000. To finish the well sealing project, city staff again worked with MRWA staff to apply for both Implementation and Competitive Grants, leading to a total award of $18,000 to assist with the total project cost. Without the opportunity provided by the Source Water Protection Grants, the city would likely not have been able to gather the support or resources necessary to seal the well.
In April 2023, the successful sealing of the former Pennock municipal well was completed. Through allocating staff time and matching grant funds for the old municipal well investigation and sealing, the city of Pennock eliminated the potential risk of contamination to the aquifer to ensure safe drinking water for their residents.
Esko Public School District had a 10,000-gallon fuel oil tank located within 400 feet of a well, which supplied drinking water to approximately 1,500 students, teachers, and supporting staff. In 2018, the school completed a project to upgrade its heating system to new gas boilers and decided it was time to remove the fuel oil tank since it was no longer needed and presented a contamination risk to the water supply wells. During a wellhead protection meeting in 2018, the district recognized the risks of the unused fuel oil tank and decided to take action to protect their water supply and remove the tank.
MDH sanitarian Cordell Manz and planner Chris Parthun played key roles in supporting Esko Public School District through the process of writing the project evaluation forms and consulting the district's Wellhead Protection Plan. The school district applied for a Source Water Protection Competitive Grant with the help of MDH and MRWA staff and was awarded $5,875. The district matched that amount to reach the total project funding of $11,750.
With the efforts by the Esko Public School District and support from MDH and MRWA, the public water system successfully removed the unused fuel oil tank. These combined efforts protected the well to ensure it would continue to supply clean drinking water to the Esko Public Schools students and staff. Additionally, this action helped preserve the quality of the groundwater for the private well users and neighboring communities in the surrounding area.
Itasca County managed three tax-fortified parcels of land which contained five underground storage tanks (USTs). The land parcels were in the Drinking Water Supply Management Areas (DWSMA) of the cities of Bovey, Calumet, and Keewatin. In each city’s Wellhead Protection Plans, the USTs were identified as a potential risk to the drinking water supply.
MDH planner Chris Parthun initiated the process to remove the underground storage tanks in 2018 with the help of each city’s wellhead protection plan manager. Parthun also coordinated with a real estate specialist and the Itasca County Administrator for their expertise. A stakeholder meeting was held to discuss an action plan, and it was decided all five USTs would be removed to eliminate the potential risk of contamination through groundwater into the drinking water supply. Bids were obtained by Itasca County for all five tanks to be removed by one vendor, and all bids were more than the $10,000 maximum limit for SWP Implementation Grants. Bovey submitted an SWP Implementation Grant application in the fall of 2018, which was approved. Calumet and Keewatin followed shortly after in summiting their own applications, which were also successfully approved. The Itasca County Board adopted resolutions for each of the three communities where the Itasca County would oversee the contracted work as well as pay for any additional costs above the awarded $10,000 dollars from the Implementation Grants. In total, the project cost $46,250 dollars, with $30,000 coming from Implementation Grants to complete.
In 2019, the project to remove the five underground storage tanks was successfully completed. To ensure protection from further groundwater impacts from potential leaks from the tank’s contents, the case files remain open with continued outreach to the communities. These efforts addressed a pressing public health concern in communities supplied by small public water systems, helping reduce health risks and promote health equity. Finally, upon the project’s completion, parcel management was placed in the hands of each public water system, and local, county, and state working relationships were strengthened. Calumet, Bovey, and Keewatin were recognized for their efforts as finalists for the Source Water Protection Awards administered by MDH and MRWA.
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