The city of Edgerton this spring bought 37.2 acres within its drinking water supply management area to ensure the nitrate-reducing benefits of perennial vegetation remain intact.
A Clean Water Fund wellhead protection partner grant from the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources covered 90% of the $360,000 purchase price. The transaction between the city and Carol Brands Living Trust was finalized on April 12, City Clerk Joel Farrington confirmed.
“Our goal is to get it (the nitrate level) back below that 7 ppm, but the main reason that we’re really after this is because it’s been in wellhead protection for so long that we didn’t want to lose it and find out what would happen if the wrong person did end up with the property,” said Edgerton Water Supervisor Doug Brands, who is the seller’s nephew.
The land lies upslope from the city well, which supplies 550 residential and business customers. It’s been part of Edgerton’s wellhead protection efforts since 1991. Previously, the city had received Minnesota Department of Health grants to supplement Conservation Reserve Program payments to the landowner. That effort brought nitrate levels down from about 20 ppm to 15 ppm.
When the city rented 10 acres from an adjacent landowner and enrolled it in CRP for 10 years, nitrate levels met EPA standards. Nitrate levels climbed within a few years after farming resumed. The city in 2018 rented 125 acres from that landowner and planted Kernza on 40 acres. Last year, the entire field was planted into Kernza.
The city chose Kernza partly because of its massive root system.
“Like any grass, it used tons and tons of nitrogen. If there’s nitrogen in the soil, it uses it before it has a chance to get down into the drinking water. It’s a really good nitrogen scavenger,” Brands said.
On his own 230-acre farm in rural Edgerton, Brands raises corn, soybeans and Kernza. With assistance from Pipestone SWCD and its Clean Water Fund grant targeting nitrate reduction, he planted Kernza on the 7 acres of his farm that lie within the city’s drinking water supply management area.
Brands said the three-year commitment would give him time to decide whether to expand the crop.
“It’s hard to sell it to others if you’re not willing to do it yourself,” Brands said.