ELBOW LAKE, Minn. – When the Rock County Rural Water District noticed an increase in nitrate concentrations in their best producing wells they sought assistance from the Rock County Soil and Water Conservation District and the Minnesota Rural Water Association.
“Losing your best producing wells is a big deal in any part of the state,” said Aaron Meyer, MRWA Source Water Protection Specialist. “Losing your best wells in southwest Minnesota is an even bigger deal.”
The Water District was faced with either constructing a nitrate removal plant or drilling more wells.
“Finding water in this part of the state is very difficult, and many times once you find a source with sufficient quantity, it usually has poor quality,” Meyer explained.
To save themselves from building a nitrate removal plant or drilling additional wells, the RCRWD Board asked for assistance from the Rock County Soil and Water Conservation District and the MN Rural Water Association. The three organizations held meetings with the farmers and land owners within the wellhead protection area.
After discussing the various issues and concerns, the RCRWD Board decided to create a cost-share program to help fund conservation practices which would lessen the nitrate loading from croplands west of the Rock River. The cost-share program was designed to offer a financial incentive to farmers interested in planting a cover crop or applying an additional nitrogen side dress application. Side dressing is a method where fertilizer is applied alongside plants.
The board used a tiered approach, offering the highest payment rates closest to the impacted wells and reduced payment rates farther away from the wells.
None of the farmers in the area were split applying their nitrogen fertilizer during the growing season, so the group created a program to apply the same amount of fertilizer but spread among more applications. This created a win-win that not only protected the water sources, but ensured more efficient use of nitrogen.
“By spreading it out over a number of applications rather than one, this would not only potentially increase yields, but also reduce the nitrate loading to the aquifer,” Meyer explained.
RCRWD also applied for a source water protection grant via Minnesota Department of Health and was awarded $10,000 to help offset some of the cost of implementing the program.