Lessons From Minnesota's Groundwater Protection Strategies

April 27, 2020

Agriculture often has a direct impact on groundwater quality through the application of fertilizer. Governmental agencies are aware of this fact and looking for ways to help reduce these problems. The state of Minnesota recently installed some meaures to help monitor nitrogen pollution from agriculture that winds up in groundwater. Larry Gunderson, a fertilizer specialist with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture shared some of the lessons learned from these strategies with graduate students in the sustainable agriculture colloquium.

The Groundwater Protection Rule put in place by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture in 2019 limits times and areas that can be fertilized based on their potential to leach into ground water in order to reduce nitrogen pollution which can lead to human health concerns. This rule is a part of the larger Nitrogen Fertilizer Management Plan which aims to manage and reduce fertilization practices can have a negative impact on groundwater. The rules include testing to gauge the impact of agricultural practices on at-risk public and private wells and to help better understand which practices allow for mitigation. While there has been some pushback to the rules, Mr. Gunderson noted that these rules are necessary steps to improve water quality, have been proven to work, and were developed in a collaborative process with a variety of stakeholders.

Looking to the future, Mr. Gunderson is optimistic that the rule will have positive impacts on water quality within the state. Having this rule in place will allow the state to develop more targeted and localized advice for different regions and understand the dynamics of specific practices and lag-times for improvements. All of this information will help the agency continue to update the regulations so that they are more effective in protecting water quality.