Water Well Regulation in Minnesota

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The majority of Minnesotans rely on groundwater as their primary source of drinking water, and more than one million Minnesotans have private wells. In Anoka County, 30% of residents are served with water through a private well on their property. In order to ensure public safety and the protection of precious water resources for the large number of Minnesotans who rely on well water, the Minnesota Department of Health (“MDH”) is tasked with the regulation of the construction of new wells, private or public, as well as the inspection of all existing wells and the sealing of unused wells. Understanding the rules which govern water wells in Minnesota is important not only to ensure that your well is up to code and your water is clean and safe, but also to provide guidance when it is time to sell your home.

Minnesota Rules chapter 4725, otherwise known as the Minnesota Well Code, and Minnesota Statutes Chapter 103I govern the requirements and restrictions regarding wells in Minnesota. Normally, the MDH monitors wells statewide, however, some cities and counties have assumed some of the responsibility for regulating well regulation themselves, such as the City of Bloomington, the City of Minneapolis, and several counties including Blue Earth, Dakota, Goodhue, LeSueur, Olmstead, Wabasha, Waseca, and Winona. Anoka County is regulated by the MDH directly, however, and the Community Health and Environmental Services Department (“CHES”) in Anoka County assists the MDH by monitoring wells and offering water testing services to ensure that wells are in compliance with state standards.

Below are some frequently asked questions from homeowners regarding water wells. Understanding the basics will protect your own well, as well as protect you if you choose to sell your property with a well on it.

How do I construct a well on my property? What steps do I need to take in constructing a new well so that my well is up to code and legal?

Only contractors licensed by the MDH should construct, repair, or permanently seal a well. Minn. Stat. § 103I.205, subd. 4; Minn. Rules 4725.0475, subpart 1. It is possible to construct a well on your own, but the intended use of the well must be for farming or other agricultural purposes or to supply water to your personal residence. Minn. Stat. § 103I.205, subd. 1(d). Either way, when a new well is being constructed, you must notify the MDH by filing a notification form and paying a filing fee. Minn. Stat. § 103I.205, subd.1; Minn. Rules 4725.1820. ¬ Filing fees vary depending on city or county. Minn. Stat. § 103I.208, subd.1and Minnesota Rules 4725.1836. Once the appropriate notification has been filed and the fee has been paid, the MDH will issue a permit allowing construction to begin. Minn. Rules 4725.1810, subpt. 5.

Minnesota requires “setback” or separation distances between a well and utilities, buildings, water sources, and potential sources of contamination. Whether a licensed contractor is constructing the well or whether you choose to do it yourself, the Rules outline very specific distances and specifications regarding where on your own property a well can be constructed. For example, a well must be placed thirty (35) feet away from a lake, stream, pond, or river, and fifty (50) feet away from a septic tank. MDH Well Owner’s Handbook, p.9, fig. 2. Being aware of these setbacks is vital in order to adhere to the law and keep water safe from contamination.

Do I have to get my water tested? If so, how often? Where can I get my water tested? How much does it cost?

After construction of a new well, Minnesota law requires that you disinfect your well within thirty (30) days of completion before it can be used for drinking or cooking. Minn. Rules 4725.5650. The contractor who constructed your well will most likely deal with the disinfection, but it is possible to disinfect the well yourself. The MDH provides an instruction sheet with a step-by-step procedure on its website. Minn. Rule 4725.5550. The water from the well must then be tested for coliform bacteria, nitrate, and arsenic. Minn. Rules 4725.5650. Arsenic testing usually only needs to be completed once upon completion of the well, but the MDH recommends that wells are tested for coliform bacteria once a year, and for nitrate every two or three years. MDH. Well Owner’s Handbook, p. 18.

Unfortunately, at present, there are no facilities that test well water free of charge and as such, you will be responsible for the cost of having a laboratory test your water. MDH certified laboratories, of which there are several in the Twin Cities and outlying areas, provide accurate testing, however, many of these labs are private, and charge between $35.00-$75.00 for standard bacteria and nitrate testing, and an additional $30.00-$40.00 charge for arsenic testing. In Anoka County, the CHES provides water well testing kits at the Anoka County Environmental Services building on Third Avenue. Samples are accepted on Mondays, between 8:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., and on Tuesdays, from 8:00-12:00 p.m. The CHES service is only $30.00 for bacteria and nitrate analysis, and $14.00 for arsenic analysis.

What do I need to disclose to a buyer about my well(s) when I am selling my property?

If there is a well on your property, whether or not it is in use, it must be disclosed to a potential buyer in a Well Disclosure Statement. This statement should include a description of the property, a map showing the location of any well on the property, and the current status of the well(s). Minn. Stat. §103I.235, subd.1. Each time a new well is drilled or constructed on the property, or has changed status, a new disclosure statement must be filed. Because wells provide such a vital resource to humans, drinking water, and because unsealed wells can be very dangerous if an owner is not aware they are on the property, keeping well information updated is a necessity. Once the closing of the sale of the property takes place, the property owner/seller must also provide a Well Disclosure Certificate. Minn. Stat. § 103I.235, subd.1(b). This is very similar to the Well Disclosure Statement except that it also has the name and address of the buyer. Id. The Well Disclosure Certificate is filed with the county recorder, and the deed to the property must include a statement, signed by the buyer or the seller, stating that the certificate was filed and no changes have occurred with the well since. Minn. Stat. § 103I.235, subd. 1(i). If you don’t have a well on your property then a Well Disclosure Certificate is not necessary, however, you should write in the deed that you certify there are no wells on the property. Minn. Stat. § 103I.235, subd. 1(c).

How do I know if a well I am putting in, or my current well, is near a polluted sight?

As mentioned above, the placement of wells must adhere to setback distances. For example, certain wastewater, feed lots, or landfill sites are considered permanently polluted and construction anywhere near them can potentially be very dangerous. MDH Well Owner’s Handbook, p.9, fig. 2. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (“MPCA”) defers to the MDH in specifying isolation distances as the MDH has a well advisory program, or Special Well and Boring Construction Areas, which lists suspected contaminated sights. Before drilling in a well advisory area, you must contact the MDH.

Currently in Anoka there are two Special Well and Boring Constructions Areas; the East Bethel Sanitary Landfill and the Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant (“TCAAP”). If you are unsure whether contamination has taken place near your home, the MDH suggests checking with “What’s in My Neighborhood?” on the MPCA site as well as the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) site. http://www.pca.state.mn.us/index.php/data/wimn-whats-in-my-neighborhood/whats-in-my-neighborhood.html; http://www.mda.state.mn.us/chemicals/spills
/incidentresponse/neighborhood.aspx. As long as the contamination has not reached the level at which a Special Well and Boring Construction Area is in effect, then the MDH will determine the well isolation distance from the plume of contamination. MDH Well Owner’s Handbook, p.9, fig. 2.

When in doubt, it is always best to hire a well professional, or to contact the MDH directly. The MDH has a very comprehensive website which is easy to navigate and full of information to ensure the safety of well water for all Minnesotans.

This article gives you only a brief overview of water well regulation in Minnesota. If you are experiencing water well issues, either because you have specific problems with county regulations or you are interested in transferring property and want to ensure you are adhering to applicable laws, or make sure that you have an inspected and working well before buying, please call Joan M. Quade for assistance at BGS at 763-783-5138 or e-mail at: jquade@bgs.com, or seek other legal advice.

About Joan M. Quade

Joan Quade is a Shareholder and the Practice Group Leader for the Litigation & Employment Law area at BGS. She has more than 25 years experience negotiating and/or litigating solutions to problems for businesses or for individuals. Joan is also a Rule 114 Qualified Neutral Mediator. She is an avid sports enthusiast and has run several charity 5K events as well as biked the MSBA events for charity.

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