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Drinking water in Minnesota

Quick facts

  • Groundwater is the drinking water source for approximately 75% of Minnesotans.
  • Water is supplied from public water systems or private wells.
  • You should test your private well regularly for certain contaminants.
  • Public water suppliers are required to meet drinking water health and safety standards and ensure adequate supply to their connections.

The majority of drinking water in Minnesota comes from groundwater. This water is stored in underground aquifers, which is then pumped to the surface for our consumption.

Depending on where you live, you can get your drinking water from either a public water utility or a private well.

Public water supply

Homeowners that are connected to a public water utility get their water pumped to their house from a local water supply. If you receive a water bill each month, this probably includes you.

Community public water suppliers serve at least 25 persons or 15 service connections year-round. Most cities and towns fall into this category.

Public water suppliers are required under the Safe Drinking Water Act to meet drinking water health and safety standards as well as ensure adequate supply to their connections. Your public water supplier is required to test for contaminants regularly and they need to be within the health risk limits before they can issue you water.

If you have an older home, testing for lead may be a good idea, since lead in drinking water usually comes from older plumbing in the home and not the water supply.

If you’re interested in your water supplier’s testing results and water quality you can search for their annual report on the Minnesota Department of Health site.

Private water supply

Homeowners or renters that get their water from a private well are more likely to live in rural areas and have some sort of well on their property. If you use well water, you should not receive a bill from a water supplier. Since you own the property you also own your well.

Water from a private well is plumbed into your home and sent to your faucets, toilets and showers through a pressure tank. “Tap water” is a common term used for well water that comes out of your sink, and that is most commonly used for cooking and drinking.

The pros and cons of owning a private well

Some of the benefits are not having to pay a monthly bill to a water supplier, you know exactly where the water comes from, and after a water test, you’ll know what and if any chemicals and minerals are in the water.

Some cons to a private well are the upkeep and cost if something happens to the well  (a new well can cost several thousands of dollars), maintaining pumps and plumbing, and the testing that goes along with having safe drinking water.

As a well owner, you are responsible for making sure your water is safe to drink. In Minnesota, there are no regulations that make you test your drinking water. And if you do find a problem, it is up to you to either fix it or find a different water source.

Under certain circumstances, if there is a disruption in your water supply or quality, you may be able to get help fixing the problem from a government agency, usually through grant funding.

Some options for treatment if you find an issue with your drinking water:

  • Installing a treatment system (for example, a reverse osmosis system).
  • Identifying above-ground contamination and removing it.
  • Drilling a new well.
  • Updating plumbing to your drinking water source.

These treatments can range in cost depending on where you live and what the issue is. The Minnesota Department of Health has a list of water treatment options.

When testing your well water for contaminants it is important to use a source of water most often used for drinking, usually the water out of your kitchen faucet or bathroom. It is important to use a certified water testing lab when getting a water sample.

This list of Minnesota groundwater testing labs includes laboratories from across the state. These laboratories will give you specific instructions on collecting water for your test and possibly a sample kit. It is important to follow the instructions so you don't contaminate your results.

Drinking-water contaminants

Listed in alphabetical order, not in order of importance or recommendation.

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Hardness

Caused primarily by calcium and magnesium, hardness in water is simply a measure of the number of dissolved metals.

There is no health risk limit for hardness, just the annoyance of dingy clothes, scum and staining from the water on hard surfaces.

  • Treatment options and guidance:
    • Water softening, also known as cation exchange.

Author: Anne Nelson, Extension educator, water resource management and policy and Taylor Becker, 
Extension educator, agricultural water quality protection

Reviewed in 2021

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