Residents in Park Rapids, Minnesota, will have a rather unwelcome surprise in their next water bill--it will be about 25 percent higher, to pay for a new water treatment plant. This is needed because the city’s aquifer has become contaminated with nitrates from agricultural fertilizer, and now has nitrate concentrations two to three times higher than safe levels.

So Park Rapids will bring its new water treatment plant online next month, causing the rate increase. But some residents are enraged that they are paying to clean contamination that is caused primarily by farmers.

“We know where it’s coming from,” said Dick Rutherford, who owns two homes in the town. “It’s the farmers that are putting this stuff in the ground. I don’t feel we should be paying for the whole thing; I don’t think we should be paying for any of it.”

The state has already begun working with local farmers to reduce water and fertilizer use. About fifty farmers took part in a monitoring and education program last year, where the majority of farmers found they could reduce their rate of water and fertilizer use. Some farmers have also turned to a slow-release fertilizer that reduces leakage to groundwater. Others are planting drops that require less nitrogen.

Even with these alterations, nitrate levels are still going up in many wells. Some aquifers are seventy feet underground, so it could take years for changes above ground to improve water quality.