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High nitrates result in closed well

A Park Rapids city well has been closed due to high nitrate levels in the water.

Other wells in the city had nitrate levels below the maximum contamination level and continue to supply the city's water.

The high nitrate levels in the closed well appear to be from area farms that use fertilizers, said Ulteig Engineers representative John Olson. He said there have been discussions with producers in the area, including R.D. Offutt Co. and Becker Farms about ways to alleviate nitrate contamination and some changes have already been made.

But it may take years before those changes will be seen in the water, Olson said.

Nitrates can contaminate water by fertilizers being applied to crops that end up seeping into the ground. Nitrates can be particularly dangerous to infants under 6 months old. Infants who drink water containing high levels could become seriously ill and have symptoms including shortness of breath and blue baby syndrome.

Park Rapids has fairly shallow wells, Olson said. They are about 50 to 70 feet deep.

It is recommended that the city have a deeper well where there wouldn't be nitrate contaminants, Olson said.

Elsner Well Drilling was authorized to do test drilling to see if water can be found at a deeper level.

Todd Johnson, from the Minnesota Department of Health, said that two samples of water from well 4 had exceeded 10 mg/l, which exceeded the maximum contaminant level. Over the years, nitrates in some of the city's well waters have been increasing.

Dave Neiman, representing the Minnesota Rural Water Association, has been working with a Wellhead Protection Plan for Park Rapids over the years. The plan was started in the late 90s and even at that time the main concern was high nitrates, Neiman said.

He explained that it takes 10 years for water to travel through aquifers into the water lines.

Minnesota Department of Agriculture water quality advisor Luke Stuewe has been working with area producers to determine new activities that support wellhead protection.

Nitrates in groundwater are usually caused by human activities such as fertilization of crops and lawns. The area surrounding Park Rapids is split between forestland and agricultural fields, with roughly 80 percent of the farmland under irrigated production, Stuewe said.

He has started taking monthly samples of 23 wells in the Park Rapids area. Many citizens are voluntarily bringing in their well water for testing, he said. The majority of the wells are shallow.

An agricultural field on the west side of Park Rapids is also being tested regularly, Stuewe said.

RDO representatives shared some of the ways they have been reducing their use of fertilizers that contain nitrates on their potato crops.

John Vaadeland, with RDO, said a time-released fertilizer is being used that improves crop uptake and reduces losses of the fertilizer into the groundwater. This practice started about three years ago and this year, 100 percent of the fields are using time-released fertilizer.

RDO has also begun to plant different types of potatoes that require less fertilizer, Vaadeland said. Those varieties do cost more, he said.

Deep tillage is also been done so roots can go down into the ground more deeply and take in more water.

The Park Rapids City Council decided to see if a deeper well could be drilled to obtain water rather than build a treatment plant, which would cost more money.

Kelly Elsner, owner of Elsner Well Drilling, said he has had good luck drilling deep wells, between 400 and 500 feet in the area. The water ends up being excellent quality, he said.

The City Council authorized Elsner to drill a test hole to see if a deep well would work for the city.