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MDH report addresses drinking water challenges

A recent Minnesota Department of Health report noted efforts to address contaminants of emerging concern, lead service line replacement, disparities in resources among systems among other concerns.

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Providing clean and abundant drinking water to all Minnesotans is a big job, and a new report released today by the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), Minnesota Drinking Water Annual Report for 2021, finds that in most communities served by the state’s 6,677 public water systems finds that there are challenges with drinking water quality and quantity in some areas of the state.

The MDH report provided an overview of the past year’s monitoring of public water systems and highlights several strategic initiatives addressing those water quality and quantity challenges. It also assessed how well public water supply systems are doing at meeting the standards set in the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

Although some areas of the state face challenges with aging infrastructure and with quality and quantity issues, the vast majority of public water systems have met all the regulations of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. The report shows more than 98% of Minnesotans drinking water from a community public water system received water that met all federal health-based standards throughout the year.

The annual report also highlights key initiatives such as efforts to identify and address potential new contaminants, new measures to protect users of public water systems from lead contamination and initiatives to reduce differences among systems’ ability to provide quality water.

Release of the annual drinking water report comes in conjunction with Gov. Tim Walz declaring May 1-7 as Safe Drinking Water Week in Minnesota, a time when water professionals and the communities they serve recognize the vital role safe drinking water plays in our daily lives. 

According to the report, only rare contamination problems existed in 2021 in Minnesota’s 965 community water systems (including 730 city water systems) and the state’s 5,712 noncommunity systems, which serve water to people in places other than their homes, such as factories, schools, and resorts.

Among the issues noted in the report four community and five non-community systems exceeded the nitrate standard in 2021.

By the end of 2021, seven community water systems and five noncommunity systems exceeded the standard for arsenic. Three community systems and one noncommunity system exceeded the action level for lead in 2021. 

In addition to the report issued by the state, communities across Minnesota issue their Consumer Confidence Reports to their public water supply customers by July 1 each year. Those reports provide summary details on the results of monitoring for each public water system.

MDH addressed the risks from contaminants of emerging concern (CECs). CECs are often unregulated or regulated at a level that may no longer be adequately protective of human health. MDH has many monitoring, policy, and outreach projects to address CECs in drinking water. Among those highlighted in the report are a project with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture to identify both public and private water supplies that may have cyanazine or its degradates in their source water and a project to test all community water supplies in the state for per-and polyfluoroalkylsubstances (PFAS).

While children’s exposure to lead hazards has been greatly reduced in recent decades, lead service lines, which connect water mains to people’s household plumbing, remain one of the ways exposure can still occur — and there is no safe level of lead. The report discusses recent major changes in lead and copper regulations by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the economic and public health importance of lead service line replacement and plans for distributing an influx of new federal funding for lead service line replacement.  

In Minnesota, some small water systems serving low median household income populations struggle with water quality violations and face challenges to improving their systems not shared by larger or more well-off systems. This poses potential inequities in health outcomes for users of those systems. The report outlines several initiatives to address health equity and disparities in Minnesota’s water systems. The report also highlights strategic initiatives MDH is pursuing related to source water protection, water reuse and climate change. The report includes a brief discussion on how water utilities and MDH worked together to address the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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