A Junction of Conservation and Human Health


Intensified land use and resource extraction, coupled with climate change, are challenging communities to provide a clean and affordable water supply. To address these concerns, the Conservation Marketplace Midwest (CMM) developed incentive based tools to protect and restore drinking water quality. This voluntary approach rewards changes in land use management that are directly related to the protection of drinking water.

CMM is interested in partnering with public water suppliers that have a water quality concern. CMM has successfully implemented nitrogen reduction programs for the city of Cold Spring and the city of St. Peter.

Cold Spring Nitrogen Reduction BMP Program

The city of Cold Spring is a community of approximately 3,000 people. It operates 6 municipal wells to supply water to its residents and the large commercial facilities within its community. Water is abundant throughout the region, in part due to the geology and the glaciers leaving behind thick lenses of sand and gravel. The sand and gravel, while providing for abundant water quantity, lack a confining layer making the water vulnerable to contamination from the land surface. As a consequence the City has elevated nitrate in its drinking water supply.

Looking toward the future the City wanted to address the problem at the source rather than reacting to rising nitrate by building a reverse osmosis treatment system. To assist with this process the City enlisted the help of CMM to work with agricultural producers to reduce nitrogen application on the lands surface.

In response, CMM developed a suite of Source Water Protection (SWP) Credits for enhanced nutrient management. The SWP credits were developed to reflect current farm management in the targeted area, providing the greatest chance for adoption by the producers.

The project targeted 500 acres planted to corn. CMM successfully enrolled 277 acres into the program, eliminating 4,076 lbs/yr of Nitrogen from the soil surface in the City of Cold Spring Wellhead Protection Area.

CMM Sourcewater McKnight Grant

Conservation Marketplace Midwest is working to develop market based approaches to reduce nitrate impacts in Drinking Water Supply Management Areas and Surface Water Protection Areas by developing public-private partnerships that promote alternative cropping systems and irrigation technologies that better manage nitrogen in targeted areas experiencing elevated nitrates. Alternative cropping systems is a program developed by the MN Department of Health and the MN Rural Water Association that identifies BMPs and land use changes to protect vulnerable groundwater and surface water systems. Example practices include cover crops or crop rotations with a third crop like alfalfa or perennials and so forth.

The primary target area is the irrigated potato growing area in the north central sands region of Minnesota within the Mississippi River Basin.  In this region, shallow groundwater and surface water resources are closely connected.  CMM is developing a program framework which involves municipalities, agricultural producers and private industry to enable the stacking of conservation benefits to compete with current commodity prices.  Key objectives will be: 1] identify and begin conversations with growers, municipalities, industry and state agency partners about nitrate reductions; 2] develop outreach materials for growers; and 3] develop the framework for ecosystem services payments to growers adopting practices that reduce nitrogen in irrigated potato and corn/bean cropping systems.  

Intended Outcomes:
CMM expects to achieve the following outcomes: 

  • Identify and develop a rapport with important potato industry partners including growers, industry, municipalities, advisors and state agency staff in north central MN.

  • Develop outreach materials on best practices and alternative cropping systems for nitrogen reduction for growers.

  • Develop the framework for a market based approached for growers adopting practices that reduce nitrogen in irrigated potato and corn/soybean cropping systems.