MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Groundwater contamination is a rapidly growing concern among Minnesota scientists.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency said up to 60 percent of groundwater monitoring wells sampled in central Minnesota are contaminated with nitrate. The levels are past the safe drinking water standard, particularly in agricultural areas of the state.

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Nitrates get into groundwater from fertilizers and animal manure, and many of the communities affected sit near farmland.

“It’s very costly to fix contaminated groundwater, or to get a new supply once it’s gone bad,” Paul Hoff of the MPCA said. “We’re trying to get ahead of the game and look at what we can do to protect that resource.”

Drinking water contaminated with nitrates can lead to a fatal blood disorder in infants called “blue baby syndrome.”

With the first Governor’s Water Summit taking place Saturday, MPCA is pushing for attention to be paid to groundwater.

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According to MPCA three out of four Minnesotans get their drinking water from groundwater, a source which, unlike lakes or rivers, remains largely out of sight.

The findings were reported in the Groundwater Protection Recommendation report. Gov. Dayton said attention will be paid during the summit.

Last year, Dayton began an initiative that would use perennial vegetation buffers up to 50 feet along streams, ditches and rivers, filtering out the bad stuff before it gets into the water supply. Hoff called the plan a great first step.

“This report underscores the urgent need to ensure that all Minnesotans have clean water,” Dayton said in a recent press release. “I look forward to discussing this report, and our state’s serious water quality challenges, at the Governor’s Water Summit this weekend.”

The Governor’s Water Summit takes place Saturday at the InterContinental Saint Paul Riverfront Hotel.

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The full MPCA report is available online.

Reg Chapman