Nitrate contamination in water remains a concern for the Upper Big Blue Natural Resource District.
"We have 41 communities in this natural resources district," says Upper Big Blue General Manager John Turnbull. "17 of them at some time have been on administrative orders by Health and Human Services for high nitrates."
Rules about water quality and fertilizer application have been in place for decades, and the NRD's board revisits and updates them every few years. Turnbull says discussion about more changes to fertilizer application rules began a year ago with the board considering requiring farmers district-wide to split apply their fertilizers. If a farmer wanted to apply earlier, they would have to use a nitrification inhibitor to keep the nitrogen from leaching out of the crop's reach and into the groundwater.
Nearly a hundred producers and citizens came to a public hearing in March to talk about the proposed rule changes.
"People are of course concerned about what the out of pocket costs might be and what the results might be - are the results worth the cost?" says Turnbull. "There's a lot of debate about that...it's still not settled."
Water Department Manager Rod DeBuhr says the Upper Big Blue board decided at their May meeting to hold off on adopting all the rule changes as they consider if other nitrogen management practices might be a better answer than inhibitors.
"It does work, but the conditions in the soil, the moisture conditions and those types of things will effect how well the product works," says DeBuhr.
Upper Big Blue officials say they will be requiring inhibitors to be used in the Hastings Wellhead Protection Management area starting next July. That plan is being developed alongside the Little Blue NRD and the City of Hastings. Turnbull says it will be an opportunity for them to see how effective inhibitors and fertilizer application timing restrictions are.
Turnbull says the discussion about nitrate management is far from over, and as the water committee and board look at alternatives, they will be planning more public hearings so they can get feedback from producers.