State money is available to eligible residents in the Whitewater River watershed to help fund projects that would protect drinking water from pollution, including sealing unused wells, replacing failing septic systems and planting cover crops.
Applications are open through the end of 2024. Funding, provided by the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources and the state’s Clean Water Fund, is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis.
Projects are cost share, and participants will make out-of-pocket payments.
The Whitewater River watershed is a regulatory area centered on the Whitewater River, containing parts of Winona, Wabasha and Olmsted counties. St. Charles, Elba and parts of Altura and Utica are included in the watershed.
The risk of excess nutrients contaminating groundwater in the Whitewater River watershed is high, according to the Mississippi River Winona-La Crescent Comprehensive Watershed Management Plan. Shallow aquifers and karst features throughout the watershed facilitate the movement of contaminated surface water to groundwater.
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Drinking water supplies near Utica and Altura have “high” vulnerability to contamination, according to planning documents. Drinking water supply vulnerability near St. Charles is “moderate.”
The plan also identifies sealing unused wells and replacing failing septic systems as a high priority throughout the entire watershed.
Water contaminated with nitrates and other pollutants can drain down unused, old or poorly constructed wells to groundwater, which can impact the health of communities using aquifers for drinking water.
Project funding can cover 75% or up to $3,000 to seal a well. Well sealing projects must be approved in advance and be completed by contractors licensed by the Minnesota Department of Health.
Failing septic systems
A failing septic system can discharge wastewater that contains pathogens, which can leech into streams and groundwater, impacting human health and the environment.
“Sewage surfacing near the drainfield, sewage backup in the home, or slow draining bathtubs are signs that a septic system is failing,” according to a Whitewater River watershed press release.
State funds cover 75% or up to $25,000 to replace or repair a septic system. Homeowners who apply must meet low-income thresholds set by the United States Department of Agriculture, which vary by county and number of household members.
The Mississippi River Winona-La Crescent Watershed Management cites planting cover crops as a strategy to improve the amount of water and nutrients soil can hold, reducing runoff into streams and groundwater.
Applications for one-year cover crop contracts are open to farmers located in Winona and Wabasha counties within the Whitewater River Watershed. The contracts through local county Soil and Water Conservation Districts cover up to 50 acres at $50 per acre for a multi species mix and a $40 per acre for a single species.