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AUSTIN — The Mower County Soil and Water Conservation District has partnered with Austin Utilities to offer cost-sharing funds to close old, unused wells in the county. 

Mower County property owners who apply for cost-share will be considered on a first-come, first-served basis, with the focus on priority areas for groundwater protection, said Tim Ruzek, Mower SWCD’s water planner and outreach coordinator.

“We’ve had a strong amount of interest in cost-share for well sealing,” Ruzek said. “We’re grateful for our partnership with Austin Utilities that will get many more wells sealed in the county and help protect our groundwater.”

Unused wells, especially those in areas deemed vulnerable, are seen as sources of nitrate infiltration into groundwater. High levels of groundwater nitrates — above the state standard of 10 milligrams per liter — are seen as a public health hazard. 

Mower SWCD started a cost-share program in late August with funding from a state grant. However, with Austin Utilities' involvement, the program has at least $17,000 in assistance available at a 50-50 cost-share capped at $1,000 per well. 

The county has $7,000 to go toward wellhead sealing, and Austin Utilities contributed another $10,000 toward the project. SWCD officials hope to secure additional grant funding later this year. 

So far, five wells, at an average cost of $1,779 per well, have been sealed through the program. Another six wells have been approved for funding and will be sealed later this year. 

All property owners in Mower County who have an unused or abandoned well are encouraged to apply for cost-share assistance, Ruzek said, because funding might become available for sealing wells in non-priority areas.

Mower County landowners interested in cost-share assistance for well sealing should contact Ruzek at Mower SWCD at (507) 460-4577 or by email at tim@mowerdistrict.org. Those interested also can stop by the Mower SWCD office in Austin between 7:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday at 1408 21st Ave. NW.

For more information on well sealing, visit the Minnesota Department of Health’s website at: www.health.state.mn.us

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