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Free nitrate water-testing clinic in Ottertail

Homeowners who rely on private wells for their drinking water supply should test for nitrates on a regular basis. Private well owners are encouraged to participate at the free nitrate testing clinic that will be held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday, July 28 at the Ottertail Community Center.

The clinic is sponsored by the East and West Otter Tail County Soil and Water Conservation Districts. Nitrates are the most common contaminants in Minnesota's groundwater and a significant number of the state's wells have high nitrate levels. In 2011, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) found that over 10 percent of private wells tested across the state had nitrate levels above the safe drinking water standard. In 2015 the MDA targeted several townships in the county for nitrate testing. Initial results showed about four percent of the wells tested were above the drinking water standard.

If you would like to know more about the nitrate level in your well, please bring at least one-half cup of water in either a clean plastic or glass container or Ziploc-type bag to the nitrate testing clinic. To get a good sample, allow the water to run five to 10 minutes before filling the bag. Homeowners with distillators, reverse osmosis or other nitrate removal systems should take two water samples ‑ one before and one after the treatment process. This will determine if the nitrate removal system is working. Homeowners with just a water softener need to take one sample, either before or after the water passes through the water softener. Only water from private wells will be tested, water from lakes and rivers will not be tested.

Samples should be taken no more than 24 hours before the testing, and they must be refrigerated. Samples should be cool when arriving at the clinic. To ensure accuracy, homeowners should mark the bags with their name, phone number and a well identification number if more than one well is sampled.

Homeowners may remain anonymous. In that case, they should simply choose another easily recognized number to put on the well samples. It is not necessary to provide information about the well or well location.

Samples are analyzed on the spot ‑ the process usually takes less than five minutes ‑ and results are given directly to the homeowner. If the nitrate level in a sample is elevated, clinic staff can refer the homeowner to certified labs that will retest the water.

For more information on the clinic, contact Ben Underhill (218) 346-4260 ext. 120 or Aimee Zimmermann at ext. 121.