News release: Drinking water annual report shows state’s water supplies in good shape but facing challenges

News Release
July 25, 2017

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Drinking water annual report shows state’s water supplies in good shape but facing challenges

Minnesota’s public drinking water supplies are generally in good shape, according to a report released by the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), but the state must be prepared to deal with issues that have threatened drinking water in other states.

The report emphasizes that Minnesota must remain vigilant to maintain an adequate supply of safe drinking water and avoid problems that have occurred in other parts of the country. The report looks at several incidents, most notably lead contamination in the drinking water in Flint, Mich., and explains what Minnesota is doing to prevent similar incidents. Chemical spills, harmful algal blooms, and nitrate contamination in various parts of the United States are also examined. Nitrate contamination is an ongoing concern for a number of systems in Minnesota today, the report notes.

“Minnesota water is safe to drink thanks to the work of many at the state and local levels. As threats to our water intensify, we can’t afford to get complacent,” said MDH Commissioner Ed Ehlinger. “Aging infrastructure, increasing levels of contaminants and new knowledge about what is in our water threaten our water quality and quantity. We must continue our work with property owners, communities, other state agencies and additional partners to ensure all Minnesotans have safe and abundant drinking water.”

To that end, Ehlinger and other MDH staff will participate in a series of Water Quality Town Hall meetings announced by Gov. Mark Dayton earlier this year. The series begins Monday, July 31 in Rochester. More information on the Town Hall events and the governor’s water quality goals can be found in this news release from the governor’s newsroom at: Governor Dayton Announces Ten Water Quality Town Hall Meetings to Be Held Across Minnesota (expired link).

The MDH drinking water report is available online at Minnesota Drinking Water 2017 Annual Report for 2016 (PDF). It gives Minnesotans a better sense of the work that is done to protect the quality of their drinking water and outlines the activities and resources dedicated to that goal. Finally, the report includes a summary of testing and monitoring results for the state’s public water supply systems.

Those results indicate that Minnesota continues to have strong compliance with regulations in the federal Safe Drinking Water Act and that drinking water in the state is safe. In 2016, only rare contamination problems were detected in more than 6,700 public water supplies that include community or municipal systems as well as those that supply water to people in places other than their homes, such as factories, schools, and resorts.

Statewide, water samples from those systems were subjected to more than 64,000 separate tests for more than 100 potential contaminants. None of the systems exceeded current federal standards for pesticides or industrial contaminants.

Among the report’s highlights:

  • Coliform bacteria were found in 31 community water systems. While not all coliform bacteria cause illness, they are a warning sign of possible contamination. For this reason, systems with coliform problems are routinely disinfected, flushed, and retested to ensure they are safe. The process typically takes less than a week. In addition to these detections in  community systems, there were 180 coliform detections among the more than 5,800 noncommunity systems. These systems worked with MDH staff to disinfect their systems and retest the water.
  • Arsenic contamination, which is naturally occurring in Minnesota, remains a rare problem. By the end of 2016, seven systems exceeded the arsenic standard. These systems are working with MDH to address the problem and are communicating regularly with their users about the issues. Drinking water with low levels of arsenic over a long time can increase your risk of some cancers and other serious health effects, such as diabetes.
  • Three community systems exceeded the standard for two naturally occurring radioactive materials, radium 226 and 228, at the end of 2016. In each case, system operators notified residents and explained that the findings do not constitute an emergency situation. Each of the affected systems has either started to make infrastructure changes or is studying alternatives to meet the maximum contaminant level.
  • Six community water systems exceeded the action level for lead in 2016.  These systems are exploring options for getting back into compliance and are conducting local public education programs. MDH continues to work with these systems to achieve compliance. MDH has been doing its own education campaign since the early 1990s, providing communities and groups with information on how people can reduce their exposures to lead and copper through simple precautions such as flushing faucets when the water hasn’t been used for several hours.

In addition to the report issued by the state, communities across Minnesota are required to issue Consumer Confidence Reports to their public water supply customers each year. Those reports provide details on the results of monitoring for each specific location.


Media inquiries:

Doug Schultz
MDH Communications