Health Department Warns of Future Drinking Water Challenges

MDH says more spending is needed to meet stricter, self-imposed quality standards

ST. PAUL, Minn. – A new report from the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) says that drinking water in Minnesota is in good shape, but that residents must be prepared to combat new challenges going forward.

A large section of the report is dedicated to some “could it happen here” scenarios relative to cities such as Flint, Michigan which have endured drinking water crises. In 2011 the EPA estimated that the United States will need $384.2 billion to maintain its water infrastructure and avoid lead contamination. Of this $7.4 billion will be needed for Minnesota drinking water plants over the next 20 years.

“Minnesota water is safe to drink thanks to the work of many at the state and local levels. As threats to our water intensify, we can’t afford to get complacent,” MDH Commissioner Ed Ehlinger said in a press release. “Aging infrastructure, increasing levels of contaminants and new knowledge about what is in our water threaten our water quality and quantity. We must continue our work with property owners, communities, other state agencies and additional partners to ensure all Minnesotans have safe and abundant drinking water.”

Water contamination by harmful algae blooms is unlikely in Minnesota. Roughly 75 percent of Minnesotans get their drinking water from groundwater, which would only be contaminated by connection to infested lakes. Minnesota has not had any such incident leading to a do not drink order, according to the MDH report. Dumping of fertilizers and other plant nutrients into lakes may increase the likelihood of harmful algae blooms occurring.

MDH has a goal of ensuring 97 percent of the state’s population has access to drinking water that meets federal standards. Each of the last four years have seen this goal eclipsed, and 99.4 percent of Minnesotans had access to water meeting those standards. The drinking water budget for the state was $17.1 million for 2016-17.

Of systems that tested negatively in Minnesota in 2016, 31 community systems tested positive for bacterial contamination, one exceeded the standards for nitrate levels, six for arsenic levels, six for naturally occurring radioactive chemicals, and six for lead levels.

Cottage Grove recently saw its water quality subject to scrutiny as Minnesota lowered the acceptable levels of certain chemicals in drinking water. The state’s new standards are now much more strict than the EPA’s, and the state is attempting to force 3M to pay for cleanup costs associated with it’s dumping from years ago.

MDH is holding a series of ten townhalls on water quality as part of Gov. Mark Dayton’s push to increase the state’s water quality by 25 percent by 2025.

Anders Koskinen