Governor Mark Dayton is proposing a nitrogen rule that aims to address the challenges of nitrates contaminating drinking water.

Minnesota’s Ag Commissioner Dave Fredrickson announced plans last week to have farmers apply nitrate fertilizer in the spring instead of the fall to prevent runoff.

House Representative Clark Johnson (D-North Mankato) says some areas of the state are vulnerable to groundwater contamination.

Rep. Clark Johnson

“In Nicollet and in our area Blue Earth County, we have really thick soils and lot of clay. So water doesn’t leach through very fast. But up in the sandy soils that run basically along the Mississippi river, there aren’t a lot of course soils. So this rule would apply to where there are course soils and farmers would be limited as to when they could apply nitrogen and limit it to using best management practices.”

Johnson visited with rural farmers this week at the Capitol and says there will be a larger emphasis on cover crops going forward.

“The understanding that I get is it will be a slow phase in, this is new stuff. But none the less, groundwater is important. If that’s your well that’s contaminated and your grand-kids can’t drink out of that, that a problem. So, we’ve gotta get better at that. But we also have to make sure that it’s done in a common sense way and I’m confident that that can be done.”

A recent study from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency found that more than 70% of the state nitrate pollution is from cropland sources. Around 37-percent of that is from drain tile systems, while an additional 30-percent was from nitrate leeching into groundwater.

“There’s too many wells in the state and too many cities that have nitrates over 10, which is the health limit. We see it locally, Saint Peter has a reverse osmosis system. The citizens of Saint Peter have really good water, but it’s not cheap.”

A full draft Groundwater Protection Rule will be released in May for public comment.