Posts By Brian Bohman
This article was originally published on Ensia.com
A rural community finds that for groundwater pollution, understanding each other’s constraints can make all the difference.
Imagine waking up one day and learning that your community’s water supply is contaminated by a pollutant in concentrations deemed unsafe by officials. That’s what happened to the citizens of Perham, Minnesota, in the 1990s, when workers discovered that the level of nitrates — a pollutant that can cause serious illness or death in infants — in city well water was so high that they needed to dilute it with water sourced from uncontaminated wells to meet public health standards. The likely culprit was the use by local farmers of nitrogen fertilizer, which, if applied in quantities greater than what crops use, can end up contaminating groundwater. The finding set the stage for a potential standoff between farmers focused on growing crops and environmentalists focused on keeping water clean.