By Denise Lana,
Nitrates cited as main culprit for health issues, mass fish and aquatic deaths in southeast Minnesota
It was standing room only at the Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center in Lanesboro, Minn., Thursday night, as more than 200 area residents, farmers and organization representatives gathered to present and discuss issues regarding Fillmore County water quality.
Speakers featured at the event included Paul Wotzka, farmer, hydrologist and co-founder of Minnesota Well Owners Organization, Dr. Aleta Borrud, public health and epidemiology specialist and member of the Clean Water Coalition, Monta Hayner, fly fishing instructor/guide and marketing director of Driftless Fly Fishing Company in Preston, Minn., Martin Larsen, Minnesota farmer, caving enthusiast and feedlot technician for Olmstead County Soil and Water Conservation and Carly Griffith, Program Director for the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy.
Larsen showed how corn and soybean crops are the largest contributors to nitrate loss in soil, and how replacing some corn crops with alfalfa crops can significantly reduce nitrate levels into the water table.
Dr. Borrud expounded on studies that showed women with long term nitrate exposure were at a much greater risk to suffer from bladder, ovarian and thyroid cancers.
Hayner stressed how the quality of rivers and fish can impact the income of small towns, especially with the increase in outdoor recreation in the Driftless region. She shared how nitrates in fertilizers put on farmland quickly end up in the rivers, resulting in more dead fish in the water. As recent as July 2022, Rush Creek reported 2,500 fish tied to streams and rivers killed that month as a result of nitrate levels and other pollutants.
With his knowledge of well water quality and testing, Wotzka explained how most municipalities in Fillmore County have deep wells that include non-detectable nitrates, with Chatfield reporting 4.4 mg/L. Of 1,477 private wells tested in Fillmore County, 16.9 percent had nitrate levels greater than 10 ppm.
Griffith stressed the importance of working to establish a permanent fund source for residents to receive monetary assistance to test and repair private wells, and how communities need grant programs to help increase manure storage capacities and offer education and outreach support.
Various organizations were on hand as well, including representatives from Root River Watershed, Fillmore Soil & Conservation District, Minnesota Department of Health, Minnesota Ground Water Association, Minnesota Well Owners Association, The Land Stewardship Project, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, Winona County Clean Water Coalition, and the Will Dilg Chapter of the Izaak Walton League.