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Nitrates are a growing threat to Minnesota's drinking water, report finds

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Agriculture-related nitrate contamination is a growing concern for Minnesota's drinking water, according to a report by the state's Department of Health's (MDH).

The Drinking Water Annual Report for 2014, released Wednesday, found, for the most part, drinking water supplies in the state are safe and closely monitored.

However, there's a growing number of the state's drinking water systems that are being contaminated by nitrates (a compound of nitrogen and oxygen that's commonly found in fertilizers), posing a serious health risk to residents – especially infants – who drink water with nitrate levels higher than what's allowed by federal law.

Nitrate levels on the rise

The report found that none of the state's 6,900 public and municipal water systems violated the federal limit for nitrates in 2014, but the groundwater in 75 communities that serve the water system had nitrate levels that were high or exceeded health standards, a news release notes.

Of the state's 6,000 non-community systems – which serve schools, lodgings and businesses – 150 had too high of nitrate levels in its drinking water, while 600 of the systems have groundwater sources that are affected by nitrate – 13 of which exceeded nitrate standards.

Bringing the nitrate concentration back down to acceptable levels can be a costly task – for both water system owners and Minnesota taxpayers, the report says.

Officials urge prevention, vigilance

That's why the MDH is urging sustained prevention efforts, effective treatment and continued vigilance to prevent nitrates from becoming a health threat in Minnesota.

“This report underscores the urgent need for action this session to improve water quality in our state," Gov. Mark Dayton said in a news release Wednesday. "Bad water threatens our health, our economy, and our future. We must take steps now to improve water quality throughout our state. The cost of delay is unacceptably high.”

At a news conference Wednesday, Dayton announced he wants to appoint a water quality director by July 1 to help control the state's drinking water. The position would need to be funded from the state Legislature's budget.

Dayton has also been pushing to help protect the state's waterways from pollution caused by farmland chemicals entering lakes and rivers this legislative session, but his 50-foot "buffer zone" plan has gotten a lot of backlash from farmers.

But the governor told The Associated Press this week that he's met with farm group leaders and together they want to come up with a workable plan before the session ends later this month.

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