Homeowners who rely on private wells are encouraged to participate at a free nitrate testing 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. July 23 at the West Otter Tail SWCD office in Fergus Falls, or 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Aug. 2 at the Ottertail Community Center in Ottertail.

Nitrates are the most common contaminants in Minnesota's groundwater, and a significant number of the state's wells have high nitrate levels, according to a news release. In 2011, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) found that more than 5% of the wells tested in Perham, Otter Tail, Compton, Inman, Clitherall, Elmo and Woodside were above the drinking water standard. More than 10% of the wells tested in Parkers Prairie township exceeded the drinking water standard.

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To participate, bring at least one-half cup of water in 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 5 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. 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 5 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, 218-228-2383 or Mary Jensen, 218-998-5300.

The clinics are sponsored by the East and West Otter Tail County Soil and Water Conservation Districts.