NTAE: Well Water 101 Feature Story

Educators at University of Minnesota Extension have developed an online version of their “Minnesota Well and Septic Owners Class” to teach well owners how to detect and prevent water contamination on their properties. The class has not launched yet, but in this publication, the content developers talk about how they created the course and the best practices they learned along the way. The publication is excerpted from the New Technologies for Ag Extension 2022-2023 Yearbook, which documents dozens of projects funded through the New Technologies for Ag Extension (NTAE) program. NTAE is a cooperative agreement between USDA NIFA, Oklahoma State University, and the Extension Foundation. The goal of the New Technologies for Ag Extension (NTAE) grant is to incubate, accelerate, and expand promising work that will increase the impact of the Cooperative Extension System (CES) in the communities it serves, and provide models that can be adopted or adapted by Extension teams across the nation. This work is supported by New Technologies for Agriculture Extension grant no. 2020-41595-30123 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Grant projects improve human, environmental, and community health.


Welcome. “Well Water 101” is a publication of the New Technologies for Ag Extension (NTAE) program. This publication celebrates the accomplishments of a team at Extension professionals from University of Minnesota Extension that received funding for this project in 2022-2023. NTAE is a grant program generously supported by the USDA-National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and administered through a partnership between Oklahoma State University and the Extension Foundation (EXF). The primary objective of NTAE is to provide financial assistance to competitively selected Extension programs that align with the strategic goal and priority program areas of the USDA and the Extension Com- mittee on Organization and Policy (ECOP). Through this support, NTAE helps teams catalyze, accelerate, and expand their work in their respective fields. Since its inception in 2019, the NTAE program has successfully funded and supported a total of 72 projects and leaders. This includes collaborations with all Regional Rural Development Centers (RRDCs) and ECOP Program Action Teams (PATs). Selected programs receive support for a period of one year. The project leader and their team are provided with invaluable mentoring from a team of catalysts, key infor- mants, and coaches from the EXF. This customized and innovative support model assists teams in exploring new possibilities, enhancing the intended impact of their projects, and sharing their work with a national audience. Additionally, each team receives additional resources and support to create materials and experiences that speed the development of their projects and bring about desired changes. The project showcased in this publication reflects the diversity and breadth of Extension disciplinary work and programming. In this publication, you will gain deeper insights into this exciting project, including the lessons learned, the project’s significance for Extension in a broader context, and what lies ahead for the team.




Editorial Staff Julie Halverson Dr. Rose Hayden-Smith Heather Martin Design & Production Dr. Rose Hayden-Smith Ellen P. Krugel Heather Martin

Anne Nelson Former Extension Educator, University of Minnesota Extension Jeff Broberg Director, Minnesota Well Owners Organization Jeff Stoner Member, Minnesota Groundwater Association Bruce Olsen Member, Minnesota Groundwater Association Paul Wotzka Member, Minnesota Well Owners Organization Kara Dennis Hydrologist, Environmental Health Division, Minnesota Department of Health Carrie Raber Manager, Groundwater Restoration and Protection Strategies, Minnesota Department of Health Kerry Marsolek Research & Grants Accounting Supervisor, Finance and Planning, University of Minnesota Extension Dr. Sara Heger Instructor, Onsite Sewage Treatment Program, University of Minnesota Aaron Jensen Compliance Supervisor, Subsurface Sewage Treatment System, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

1. BE INSPIRED . Follow our model to use digital media

© Extension Foundation Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommer- cial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0). Published by Extension Foundation. Citations for this publication may be made using the following: Kansas City: Extension Foundation (2022). Well Water 101 (1st ed). ISBN: 978-1-955687-43-0. This work, ISBN 978-1-955687-43-0, is supported by New Technologies for Agriculture Extension grant no. 2020- 41595-30123 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

and storytelling to reach new audiences in your community. 2. ADVOCATE. Show this publication to your

Extension Director and talk about how to use it to enhance your Extension’s public outreach. 3. SHARE. Share this publication with potential community partners who could help you create new programming. 4. GIVE FEEDBACK. Did this publication inform your Extension work? Share what you’ve

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In Minnesota, thousands of the state’s 930,000 wells (the majority of which are privately owned) are estimated to be contaminated by chemicals such as nitrate, arsenic, coliform bacteria, lead, or manganese. But private well and septic system owners are not required by the state to test their wells or treat those contaminants. In many instances, homeowners are not even aware of this responsibility, and until recently they’ve had no reliable testing or maintenance information to tell them how to test their wells or what to look for. ➤

Extension course built to teach well and septic owners how to keep their systems safe.



Well Being (Minnesota Well Owners Organization)

In 2019, University of Minnesota Extension launched a free in-person course on early detection and prevention of contamination for well and septic owners. It has since presented it to more than 600 participants. The next phase of the initiative—funded in part by a 2022-2023 New Technologies for Ag Extension grant—is to develop an online version to make the class more widely available and convenient. The virtual classes had not launched as of fall 2023 because of staffing capacity, but UMN Extension officials say the need is still there. Program organizers say that the “Minnesota Well and Septic Owners Class” (MWSOC) could be a template for other states with a similar reliance on private wells and that the next version reflects lessons they learned as they developed and delivered seminars. LESSON 1: Create a big-picture unified narrative. When the well and septic team started delivering this work- shop, it learned that fewer than 50 percent of well owners had tested their water quality in the previous 10 years or even knew when it was last tested. So, at the highest level, the message this course needs to send consistently is that well owners are responsible for assessing the risk and ensuring the safety of their systems either through their own resources or programs and funding available at the local, state, or federal level. LESSON 2: Recognize geographic differences. While the narrative around keeping well and septic systems safe needs to be standard across regions, it’s also import- ant to take regional variations in soil, bedrock, aquifers, and pollution sensitivity into consideration. LESSON 3: Bring it home. One of the biggest objectives of a course like this needs to be helping well owners “ensure safe drinking water at the kitchen sink,” says Jeffrey S. Broberg, director of the Minne- sota Well Owners Organization (MNWOO). “Our early focus on source water protection and pollution prevention failed because people often thought we were looking for someone to blame and that we were identifying regulatory targets for bad drinking water.” But when people realize immediately that the water coming out of the tap is contam- inated, they’re more likely to be open to an assessment that traces the contamination back to its problematic source.

of Minnesota counties require septic inspection only at property transfer 71%


of Minnesotans drink from private wells


50% of Minnesota well owners have tested their water recently

of Minnesota wells contain arsenic

LESSON 4: Assemble public and private partners. To develop the most effective curriculum, the well and sep- tic system team discovered that it’s important to have input from these sectors—each resonating in a different way with participants: Government —public health, soil and water conservation districts, land use/zoning Education —adult education institutions Commerce —well drillers, water systems service providers, septic installer and service providers, water quality labs, and water treatment providers Nonprofit —industry associations like MNWOO Signs of Success Anecdotal evidence from in-person classes—which include water sample testing—has given the team confidence that well owners are eager to do what’s necessary to ensure that the state’s well water is safe, Brogerg says. “One of our par- ticipants brought water samples from his well and his neigh- bors’ wells. He said, ‘I know my water is good because we test it all the time. But I’m concerned for my neighbors, who have young children and old wells. I worry that those little girls have safe water.’ We were gratified to learn that his motivation was simply to care for his neighbors.” ■

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