Mower County property owners have more opportunities this year to qualify for financial help with sealing unused wells under a continuing effort to protect groundwater drinking supplies.
Mower Soil & Water Conservation District (SWCD) and Austin Utilities – the City of Austin’s municipal water provider –have nearly $50,000 available for cost-share assistance for sealing unused or abandoned wells. These funds are offered as a 50-percent cost-share payment (capped at $1,000 per well) on the cost of sealing a well.
Mower SWCD has cost-share funds from several state grants, including one for drinking water protection and another under the first budget for the Cedar-Wapsipinicon water-management plan, formerly known as “One Watershed, One Plan.”
Austin Utilities is offering cost-share payments with its own funds and grants from the Minnesota Department of Health.
Since August 2019, Mower SWCD and Austin Utilities have helped seal 22 unused wells in Mower County, that according to Tim Ruzek, Mower SWCD’s water plan and outreach coordinator. Another 10 wells already have approval for sealing but are awaiting the work to begin.
The Minnesota Department of Health has indicated that groundwater is the source of drinking water for most people in Mower County. Unused wells, they stated, should be sealed for physical safety; health and environment; and legal responsibilities.
An unused well can act like a drain that allows surface water runoff, contaminated water or improperly disposed waste a direct path into drinking water sources. When this happens, everyone’s drinking water quality is threatened – city water wells, neighbors’ wells and the landowner’s current well – which is why the state advises homeowners to test their water annually.
All property owners in Mower County who have an unused well are encouraged to apply for cost-share assistance, Ruzek said, because, even if funding is not available for some now, it might be in succeeding years. Mower SWCD wants to create a more comprehensive list of property owners interested in sealing a well, he added.
Applications are considered on a “first-come, first-served” basis, with a focus on priority areas for groundwater protection. Under the new grants, priority areas have expanded from the previous program.
Entire townships that now qualify under the new grants for well sealing cost-share include: Austin, Windom, Red Rock, Lyle, Nevada, Pleasant Valley, Racine, Frankford, Bennington and LeRoy townships. Other townships in Mower County vary on the number of areas considered as “high priority” for groundwater protection.
Alex Bumgardner, director of utility operations for Austin Utilities, is heading its cost-share program for sealing unused wells on properties that receive water from Austin Utilities. With its 10-year wellhead protection plan completed in 2019, Austin Utilities committed to a cost-share program for sealing wells on properties of any Austin Utilities water customer.
Austin Utilities provides drinking water to its residents from a groundwater source: eight wells ranging from 110 to 1,075 feet deep that draw water from the Prairie Du Chien-Jordan, Spillville, and St. Peter aquifers. Austin’s water quality is especially high due to well depth and the quality of the source. Given that, there is little need for treatment.
All inquiries for cost-share should go through Mower SWCD, which helps complete applications. Applicants who qualify for cost-share from Austin Utilities will be passed on to its staff while the others will be considered for approval by the Mower SWCD Board of Supervisors at its monthly meetings.
Mower County landowners interested in cost-share assistance for well sealing should contact Tim Ruzek at Mower SWCD at 507-460-4577 or by email at [email protected].
For more information on well sealing, visit the Minnesota Department of Health’s website at: www.health.state.mn.us