Nearly all of Crow Wing County's residents rely on groundwater for their source of drinking water. Groundwater protection is identified as a priority in the new Crow Wing County Water Plan.

The Crow Wing County Land Services Department wants to remind landowners of simple steps they can take to protect this resource as well as available resources to assist them.

Crow Wing County and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture are offering free nitrate testing for residents of the county and surrounding areas. Landowners can bring in a fresh sample of water from their tap to the Land Services Building in Brainerd during normal business hours.

"The test takes a matter of seconds and can often be conducted while they wait," Crow Wing County Environmental Services Division Manager Chris Pence stated in a news release. For best results, a 1-cup sample should be taken after running the tap for several minutes and before any filtering is done. Participants are also encouraged to bring the unique well number, which can be found on the well and the approximate age and depth of the well.

Nitrates and other contaminants are not detected by sight, smell, or taste and the county encourages landowners to regularly test their water. The county only tests for nitrates; however, residents can contact one of several certified laboratories in the Brainerd area to conduct a wider range of tests.

The county also wants to remind residents that funds are still available to assist landowners with the sealing of unused wells. A well that is not in use, or abandoned, can be a source of groundwater contamination by providing a potential direct path for surface water runoff, contaminated water, or improperly disposed waste to reach an uncontaminated groundwater source. Unused larger-diameter wells can also be a safety hazard for children and animals. The program will pay for 50 percent of the cost to properly seal the well, up to a maximum of $1,000. A state-licensed well contractor must conduct the work. All landowners with unused wells are encouraged to apply. Sealing involves clearing the well of debris and filling the well with grout. Funding for this program is from the Clean Water Land and Legacy Amendment that was passed by Minnesota voters in 2008.

The release stated: "The Land Services Department is committed to providing excellent customer service while helping our residents make wise decisions that protect Crow Wing County's extraordinary natural resources."

Citizens are encouraged to contact the Environmental Services Office at 218-824-1010 or visit the county's website for more information.