The state started to get serious about cleaning up nitrates a decade ago. It is now working with growers to stop new pollution and is considering how it might clean up old contamination. But it’s costly to clean an entire aquifer, and even extraordinary efforts would take several decades to pay off. So the state is also focused on funding interim local solutions to supply people with safe drinking water.
Pretty Prairie, home to 650 people on the southern Kansas plains, is a one-well town. And that well is giving the town fits. The 30-meter-deep (100-foot) borehole draws water from a slice of the Equus Beds aquifer that has shown increasing levels of nitrate, a chemical that can be deadly for infants.
I have a hunch that Des Moines will win and farmers are going to have to help cities pay for cleaner water. Maybe that’s fair. And if farm size keeps going up, who is going to protest if a 50,000 acre executive farmer has to pay.