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Greenspace: Chatfield tests new cover crop that protects groundwater

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Kernza, an intermediate wheatgrass, was planted on three acres of land owned by the City of Chatfield on Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017, at the intersection of County Road 10 and 155th Avenue Southeast near Chatfield.
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Chatfield officials are planting an uncommon crop in hopes of protecting the town's drinking water supply.

The City of Chatfield is working with the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota Rural Water Association to determine the viability of Kernza, an intermediate wheatgrass. Officials planted Kernza on 3 acres of city-owned land last week as part of an effort to protect the local water supply.

Chatfield is the first city in Southeast Minnesota to plant Kernza — a perennial crop sporting a dense root structure. The crop requires less nitrogen than others and decreases nitrogen groundwater contamination.

The city first learned of Kernza after two officials attended a Minnesota Rural Water Association conference, where University of Minnesota researchers held a presentation on the wheatgrass.

"We have never thought necessarily of what crops should one plant. We don't usually go that far," said Chatfield City Clerk Joel Young.

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But the city saw the plant as a way to reduce the leaching of nitrogen into its groundwater, Young said.

Chatfield often tests its groundwater for nitrates, he said, but trace amounts can still appear.

"That's always a concern, because we're in an ag area," he said.

Though the city has a clean water supply, Young said officials have noticed nitrate increases in certain water wells over time.

"It takes a long time for a contaminant to get from the surface down to the 480 feet," he said. "In our karst area, sometimes it doesn't take as long as other places."

The perennial nature of the crop will help protect the town's groundwater, Young said, as it reseeds itself and returns for three to four years.

"This is the type of strategy that will help assure our residents of safe drinking water long into the future," said Ryan Priebe, the city's Wellhead Protection Plan Manager, in a press release.

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Related Topics: CHATFIELD
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