Groundwater is an important resource in Minnesota. Groundwater accounts for 75% of reported water use in most years, both for drinking water and agricultural irrigation. Groundwater has a greater risk to contamination in areas of high pollution sensitivity, such as coarse-textured soils or karst topography. Such areas allow the rapid downward movement of water into surficial sands (water table) aquifers, increasing the risk for groundwater contamination from surface pollutants.

Understanding pollution sensitivity is a key consideration to prevent groundwater pollution. Many land-use activities (including row crop agriculture, stormwater, septic systems, and tanks/landfills) within a watershed could contaminate groundwater if pollutants are not carefully managed, especially in areas of high pollution sensitivity.

Activities on the land surface can also affect groundwater levels by reducing infiltration (groundwater recharge); these activities include tiling, changes in vegetation, increased areas of impervious surface, and changing surface water or stormwater flow.

BWSR's role in protecting groundwater focuses on water planning and implementation, as well as providing funding for conservation work. BWSR works collaboratively with other state agencies, federal agencies and local government to assess groundwater conditions, prioritize concerns, and develop workable protection strategies.

New: Groundwater / Drinking Water Protection Practices for Agricultural Lands

In recent years, a need emerged for more comprehensive information about protecting groundwater as a source of drinking water. To fill the information gap, BWSR developed the Groundwater/Drinking Water Protection Practices for Agricultural Lands guide with the assistance of several partners. This guide offers advice to local governments on a range of groundwater protection practices and funding programs available to landowners to support practice implementation. Practices are organized into three tiers: cropping practices with known groundwater benefits (Tier 1), cropping system changes (Tier 2) and land use changes (Tier 3). The level of protection increases as you move from Tier 1 through Tiers 2 and 3. The guide was published on BWSR’s website in late March 2021.

BWSR staff took the lead on developing the guide, with partners contributing valuable input that informed the final version. These partners include the Minnesota Rural Water Association, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and the Minnesota Department of Health.

Available Funding for Groundwater Projects

This spreadsheet, developed for BWSR's 2021 Spring Training, lists potential funding sources for implementation activities to protect groundwater resources, including funding from BWSR, the Department of Health, the Pollution Control Agency and the Department of Agriculture. 

Available Funding for Groundwater Projects (pdf)

New Resources from Our Partner Agencies

Protecting Vulnerable Drinking Water Sources story map developed by the Minnesota Department of Health. Learn and see examples of source water protection efforts around the state.

Groundwater Protection: Project Development Guide was developed by Minnesota Department of Health for local government staff to use when considering activities to protect groundwater.

Guidance for Managing Nitrate in Drinking Water (pdf) was developed for local government staff, specifically to use during planning and/or grant application processes. It was developed by the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) and includes a nitrate protection framework driven by nitrate concentrations. It provides direction on the type of management needed to protect/reduce nitrate concentrations.

Discover Groundwater Information Using the Watershed Health Assessment Framework (WHAF) Tool (pdf) was developed by MDH for the Groundwater Session at the BWSR 2021 Spring Training. It is intended for local government staff who want to learn to use the Watershed Health Assessment Framework (WHAF) tool to explore groundwater conditions in their area.

Steps for Protecting Groundwater in Your Area

Review groundwater information for your area

In order to better understand the groundwater protection and restoration needs of your area, review existing data that impacts the resource. Groundwater Restoration and Protection Strategies (GRAPS) reports have been developed for a number of watersheds in Minnesota. GRAPS reports, coordinated by the Minnesota Department of Health, contain maps and data describing groundwater conditions in the watershed, identify local groundwater concerns, and outline strategies and programs to address them.

If a GRAPS does not yet exist for your area, other sources are available. Land use, geology, hydrogeology, pollution sensitivity, and groundwater withdrawals can affect groundwater quality and quantity. The susceptibility of groundwater to contamination depends on multiple factors, including properties of soils and geologic materials, land use practices, and climate factors such as the amount and intensity of precipitation. Available resources include: 

Identify and prioritize groundwater concerns, sources and target areas

Using the information you gathered, identify groundwater concerns for your area. Determine the location of the sources of the identified concerns.

In most cases, you will need to prioritize your response by focusing on specific target areas in order to be the most effective. For additional guidance on prioritizing resources and issues, see the One Watershed, One Plan Guidebook.

Set goals and actions

Determine your baseline, then develop groundwater protection goals you want to achieve.

A logic model can help you organize your strategy, actions and goals into a story about your project or program. See page 19 of the One Watershed, One Plan Guidebook for a logic model template.


Available Funding for Groundwater Projects (pdf)

BWSR Wellhead Protection Partner Grant

BWSR Projects and Practices Drinking Water Sub-Grant

BWSR Watershed-Based Implementation Funding


BWSR Online Learning Library

Groundwater Education Module One: Groundwater 101 




Melissa King
Agency Tribal Liaison
Annie Felix Gerth
Clean Water Coordinator