Protecting Drinking Water Sources in Minnesota - EH: Minnesota Department of Health

Protecting Drinking Water Sources in Minnesota
Source Water Protection

The job of a public water supplier (PWS) is to supply safe and affordable drinking water to their customers. This involves protecting the drinking water source from contamination and other risks. A PWS identifies and manages risks as part of MDH's Source Water Protection (SWP) program. Partners often include state agencies, local government, citizens, and natural resource professionals.

Reaching Minnesota with Source Water Protection Plans

Source Water Protection Plans are a tool to keep drinking water clean and abundant for generations to come. Source Water Protection Plans include strategies to prevent contamination within the DWSMA. As of 2021, Source Water Protection Plans in Minnesota covered:

  • Over 700 communities served by PWSs
  • Drinking water for over 4.2 million Minnesotans
  • Approximately 1.2 million acres of land (3% of state land)

A public water supplier focuses activities in an area most important to the drinking water source. This is called the Drinking Water Supply Management Area (DWSMA). Below is a map of groundwater DWSMAs in the Rochester area. View DWSMAs and other source water protection areas across the state using our web map viewer. Geospatial data files for these and other source water protection areas are available for download.

Map of groundwater DWSMAs in the area around Rochester.

A key goal of the SWP program is to work with partners to protect vulnerable acres in DWSMAs. These efforts will help us achieve long-term protection of drinking water quality. Learn more about this initiative at Protecting Vulnerable Drinking Water Sources.

Source water protection is also a key strategy for other state planning surrounding water resources. Learn more about source water protection strategies in the Clean Water Council 2020 Strategic Plan (PDF) and the 2020 State Water Plan: Water and Climate (PDF).

Partnerships to protect drinking water sources

Much of the land within DWSMAs is owned privately. While MDH and PWSs are responsible for providing safe drinking water, they do not have the authority or capacity to protect drinking water sources on their own. MDH and PWSs work with local decision-makers, other state agencies, and many partner organizations to plan and implement activities that protect drinking water sources.

Picture of Pump HouseIn this video, Laura DeBeer of Pipestone County Soil & Watershed District shares advice on starting conversations with new partners and describes an exciting project in the Edgerton wellhead protection area. Read more about strategies for communicating and protecting drinking water in Talking Drinking Water with Local Producers (PDF).

Impact of source water protection efforts

The goal of source water protection is to prevent threats from becoming a public health problem. Drinking water comes from extensive, complex underground aquifers and/or surface water features. Problems affecting drinking water sources can take a community many years to fix. Water quality and quantity information only tells part of the story. The array of risks facing drinking water sources means many players can contribute to a problem and solutions must involve multiple stakeholders. A community's approach to dealing with risks often tells us more about how well source water protection is working. Featured success stories are below.

Many cities in Minnesota are known for their surface-water features. The southwestern Minnesota city of Worthington, known for its 880-acre Lake Okabena, is a prime example.

While surface water is an integral part of the city and its culture, groundwater is the backbone of the water supply for Worthington’s 12,000 residents. Groundwater for water supply is hard to find in the Worthington area, so Worthington Public Utilities (WPU) has long made an effort to protect the resources on which it relies. Since 2006, the city, along with other local partners, has contributed nearly $2 million to help set aside 520 acres of intensive agricultural land for conservation.

One of their most significant efforts was in 2014, when a critical piece of agricultural land in the city’s drinking water supply management area went up for auction. The 150-acre parcel of land comprises an area in which the groundwater is particularly vulnerable and connects to other existing conservation areas. Recognizing the benefits that parcel acquisition and protection would bring to wildlife habitat, drinking water protection, and surface water quality, allowed WPU to bring together a broad-based coalition of partners to raise the $850,000 needed to purchase the land. This successful effort culminated in a special dedication of the “Worthington Wells Wildlife Management Area” at the 2014 Minnesota Governor’s Pheasant Opener.

Group of people standing by the Worthington Wells Wildlife Management Area Project sign outdoors

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Updated Friday, 12-Aug-2022 13:48:23 CDT