Defending the Groundwater Protection Rule

Ensuring clean, safe drinking water

Nitrogen-based fertilizers are used by farmers to increase crop yields and are a vital component of a successful farming operation. However, in 2007 when high nitrate levels began showing up in wells across Minnesota, communities around the state wanted to protect drinking water from nitrate pollution. Solutions were expensive.

Drinking water high in nitrates has been linked to different types of cancer, elevated heart rates and a potentially fatal condition known as blue baby syndrome in which infants are deprived of oxygen. In 2007, as nitrate levels were reaching the state's health risk limit, the city of Hastings spent $3.5 million to install a denitrification system.

Child drinks water

The Groundwater Protection Rule would reduce high nitrate levels within vulnerable drinking water supply areas.

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) realized the need for action and created the Groundwater Protection Rule. The Rule focused on reducing high nitrate levels within the state’s vulnerable Drinking Water Supply Management Areas. MDA had been gathering input and listening to concerns from farmers since the 1990s. Updating the Groundwater Protection Rule would limit the use of nitrogen fertilizer on some farm fields while balancing the needs of farmers with the needs of all Minnesotans. The Rule’s biggest influence was in having farmers in vulnerable locations switch from fall fertilizer application of nitrogen to spring application. The goal was to stop over-application and nitrogen leaching. 

The Groundwater Protection Rule would positively impact water resources and save farmers money by limiting fertilizer over-use.

Despite the well-thought-out process of drafting this rule, the drastic need for action and Minnesotans’ overwhelming desire to have safe and clean drinking water, some lawmakers threatened to undermine this rule and the efforts to protect our groundwater resources. Several bills were introduced to prevent the MDA from adopting the Groundwater Protection Rule.

Conservation Minnesota, in partnership with several other organizations, worked in opposition to these bills with digital campaigns, written comments, testimony at public hearings, and support from our field team. Minnesotans expressed their opinions about the proposed Groundwater Protection Rule to the MDA.

Minnesotans’ voices were heard and Governor Dayton vetoed all bills unsupportive of the Groundwater Protection Rule.