Benton SWCD offers FREE nitrate testing!

What is a Nitrate?

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Nitrate (NO3) is a naturally occuring chemical made of nitrogen and oxygen. Nitrate is found in air, soil, water, and plants. Much of the nitrate in our environment comes from decomposition of plants and animal wastes. People also add nitrate to the environment in the form of fertilizers.

Why Test For Nitrates?

Nitrate is the most common pollutant found in rural wells in Morrison County. Nitrate in drinking water presents a serious problem for infants up to about six months of age, and for pregnant women. Too much nitrate in infants can reduce the amount of oxygen carried by blood. This is known as “Blue Baby Syndrome.”

How Much Nitrate is Too Much?

The Minnesota Health Risk Limit for nitrate is 10 mg/L of nitrate-nitrogen, which provides newborns with reasonable protection against blue baby syndrome. This level is mandatory for all public water systems, and recommended for private wells.

How Do I Test My Well For Nitrates?

  1. Run the water for three minutes before taking the sample.
  2. Use a permanent marker to label a resealable plastic bag (please double bag) with your name or a number/code that you can easily remember. A clean glass jar may also be used. If you have more than one sample, add an identifer (e.g., Well #1).
  3. Collect the water in the bag, only one cup is needed. Do this within 24 hours of having the sample analyzed and keep it refridgerated as long as possible.
  4. If you have water treatment equipment installed (other than a softener), we recommend taking a sample "before" and "after" to determine if your system is working properly.
  5. Your sample will be analyzed "on the spot", which will take 5 to 10 minutes.

Previous Nitrate Clinic Results

June 20-24, 2016 Nitrate Testing Results


For more information, please visit the Minnesota Department of Health and Department of Agriculture websites.

Central Sands Private Well Network (CSPWN)

Recent concerns about high nitrate concentrations in private drinking water wells have led to a new project for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) called the Central Sands Private Well Network. The Central Sand counties include: Becker, Benton, Cass, Crow Wing, Douglas, Hubbard, Kandiyohi, Morrison, Otter Tail, Pope. Sherburne, Stearns, Todd, and Wadena. Results from the first year of this project have directed the MDA to a more targeted approach to studying nitrate concentrations in this area of the state.

Nitrates are one of the most common groundwater contaminants found in rural areas. Major sources of nitrate contamination in well water can be from fertilizers, animal waste, and human sewage. Drinking water with high nitrate concentrations can cause serious health effects in infants and the presence of nitrates may be an indicator of other contaminants in the water.

In the spring of 2011, the MDA in cooperation with local Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCDs) sampled a total of 1,555 private drinking water wells from the 14 Central Sand counties for nitrate concentrations. Homeowners were randomly chosen to participate in this project and had their water tested for free. 88.6% of the wells sampled had nitrate concentrations less than 3 mg/L, which is considered to be safe for human consumption. 6.8% of the wells had concentrations between 3 and 9.9 mg/L, which is still considered safe for consumption but represents elevated levels that should be closely monitored. The remaining 4.6% of the wells sampled had nitrate concentrations of 10 mg/L or higher, which is above the health standard for nitrates. In Benton County, 57 wells were sampled during this event. 9% of those wells contained nitrate concentrations greater than 10 mg/L.

Wadena, Morrison, and Benton counties had the highest percentage of wells sampled that contained greater than 10 mg/L of nitrate in the Central Sands Private Well Network; therefore, these counties will be given the highest priority in sampling areas of concern. The next smallest forms of government in rural areas are townships; therefore, townships will be used as the next step in local level sampling.

Langola, Maywood, and Watab Townships were chosen for the targeted sampling in Benton County. This was based on which townships had the highest percentage of wells that contained nitrate concentrations greater than 3 mg/L. For this program the MDA will be inviting all landowners with a homesteaded parcel and estimated value greater than $20,000 to participate by sending out free nitrate test kits in the mail. Extra kits will be left at the Benton SWCD (located in the Foley USDA Service Center) for well owners to pick-up if they are missed through the MDA’s mailing.

Well owners in these townships will receive a sample kit containing an invitation letter, a well survey, and a sample bottle with instructions. Those wishing to participate are invited to fill out the survey and take a water sample. Well owners will be instructed to return the survey and water sample to a certified lab. Sample results will be sent by letter to the well owners, while the MDA will receive a copy of the database which will include survey results and nitrate analysis results. Samples results for this project will be summarized and reported by the MDA.

The knowledge gained by having your well tested will not only help protect you and your family, but will also assist your county to gain a better picture of the presence of nitrate in drinking water. If you live in one of these townships and have questions or comments, please contact Kimberly Kaiser (MDA) at 651-201-6280. You can also contact the local project coordinator, Anne Oldakowski (Wadena SWCD) at 218-631-3195 Ext. 4.

Benton SWCD is also available for questions and comments

More information can be found on the MDA website.