In a May 3 discussion with Minnesota Public Radio's Tom Weber and Representative Rick Hansen, DFL-S. St.Paul, Representative Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, dismissed concerns about nitrates and drinking water quality.
In the discussion (audio here) Torkelson claims that the problem of nitrates in drinking water is an isolated problem that's no threat. Around the 7:40 minute mark, Hansen calls nitrates in drinking water the iceberg beneath the surface in terms of infrastructure needs. With more detection of nitrates and more research into data that the legislature funded, the suburban Democrat says, there's more need to mitigate.
Around 9:52, Torkelson says, "The nitrate issue is a very complicated one. Nitrogen moves with water but it comes from a variety of sources and it can be in the ground for a long times before it shows up in any water system. And I'd like to remind folks that we do not have any systems that I know of --any municipal systems in Minnesota that have high nitrates. They're tested regularly and they meet the requirement. So they're safe. Minnesota's drinking water is safe. . . .
Weber reminds Torkelson that the only reason the water is safe in some communities is because "you've had to take that extra step of adding the infrastructure to treat the water.
At 10:55, Torkelson replies, "True, but it's a very small number of communities, it's quite isolated at this time and I don't anticipate that it's going to be a broad concern."
Here's the Minnesota Department Department of Health's page on Nitrates in Drinking Water. In the Pioneer Press, Christopher Magan reported in the 2015 article Minnesota water quality: What are we drinking?:
Tim Figge won’t let his grandchildren drink water from his home.
Like a growing number of Minnesotans, the Dakota County resident has seen the nitrate level in his private well water increase to unsafe heights.
In 1988, nitrate in his well at his home outside Hastings registered below 1 milligram per liter, but by 2013, it had spiked to 10 milligrams per liter, a level considered unsafe by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
“I’m 62, so I’m not going anywhere,” Figge said. “But I would like to see my grandchildren drink water from Grandpa’s tap, and that’s not happening right now.”
As Minnesota looks to protect and improve the quality of its drinking water, rising nitrate levels are emerging as a growing and costly challenge to homeowners and municipalities alike.
Nearly 100,000 Minnesotans in more than a dozen communities and an unknown number of private well owners have already had to address unsafe levels of nitrates in their drinking water.
The cost of these fixes can range from a few dollars to a few thousand dollars per household depending on the level of contamination and what needs to be done. The city of Hastings, for example, spent $3.5 million to upgrade its treatment facilities to reduce nitrates in its drinking water, while on the individual level, private well owners such as Figge can spend $700 to install a reverse-osmosis system to do the same.
The Minnesota Department of Health reported in May that a 2014 study of nearly 1,000 communities across the state found more than 60 had elevated nitrate levels — 3 milligrams per liter or more — in their drinking water. Fifteen had levels of 10 milligrams per liter or more — concentrations that can be dangerous for infants and pregnant women. . . .
Several communities with elevated nitrate levels draw their drinking water from the Prairie du Chien-Jordan Aquifer, which lies beneath much of southern Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin. About two-thirds of Twin Cities communities tap aquifers for their water, too.
In the east metro, cities from Scandia and Lake Elmo to Hastings and Rosemount have all reported elevated nitrate levels in their drinking water sources. And Hastings probably has been the hardest hit.
A little more than a decade ago, Hastings saw nitrate levels in its groundwater rise toward unsafe levels. City officials believed farm runoff, likely delivered to the aquifer by the Vermillion River that cuts through miles of farmland, was to blame. In 2008, the city spent $3.5 million on a water-treatment plant upgrade to lower nitrate levels, an estimated cost of $410 per household.
That bought what Mark Peine, the city’s public works supervisor, described as essentially a “very large water softener,” which uses positively charged ions to remove nitrates from the city’s source water. Today, Hastings’ treated drinking water has a nitrate concentration of about 4 milligrams per liter, down from more than 8 milligrams per liter before the plant upgrade.
Although nitrate levels in the city’s water before treatment appear to be on the decline, Peine said Hastings is ready with plans for more treatment upgrades should they be necessary. “We are watching it very closely,” he said.
Other communities are doing the same.
In Rosemount, public works director Patrick Wrase said the city’s wells in residential areas test well below the standard for nitrate. However, nitrate levels increase in water samples taken from wells in the more undeveloped parts of town to the east toward Hastings. . . .
The MPCA noted in Contaminated groundwater concerns mount in Minnesota:
Groundwater contamination is a growing concern that should be on everyone’s radar, according to MPCA scientists. Three out of four Minnesotans get their drinking water from groundwater sources. However, unlike our lakes, rivers and streams, groundwater is largely out of sight. . . .
Nitrate is one of the most common contaminants in Minnesota’s groundwater and comes from sources like agricultural fertilizers and animal manure. Up to 60 percent of the groundwater samples from monitoring wells in central Minnesota are contaminated with nitrate well beyond the safe drinking water standard. Drinking water contaminated with nitrate can lead to illnesses such as Blue Baby Syndrome, a fatal blood disorder in infants.
Some of the affected cities include Becker, Clear Lake, Cold Spring, Hastings, Goodhue, Adrian and Park Rapids. City officials in those areas have explored treatment options, including distributing bottled water to residents, drilling new wells, and building new reverse-osmosis water treatment plants. Many small cities are spending millions to address the problem. . . .
This isn't the first time we've seen Torkelson dismiss data and research. As we noted in Rep claims there's no scientific evidence barring pollinator-lethal pesticides helps pollinators, Torkelson denied evidence that had been presented by scientists at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture's Pollinators' Summit.
If these incidents are features of Torkelson's use of evidence and data to make decisions, we tremble at the thought of the shape his "dessert" bonding bill may take. Whenever it is he chooses to share with the rest of us.
As one of Governor Dayton's communications staffers tweeted today:
Meme: Breaking News Generator, photo of Torkelson from his twitter account.
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