The Department of Natural Resources will seek expanded public input about the department’s process in developing rules related to the state’s water quality standards, the DNR announced this week.

The effort is intended to decrease nitrate pollution in areas of the state with highly permeable soils susceptible to groundwater contamination.

The Wisconsin Natural Resources Board is asking for the public hearings relating to this process be expanded to three cities across the state, including Fond du Lac, Hancock Research Center and Blackhawk Technical College in Janesville.

“We are asking to expand public input because we truly want everyone at the table to help us tackle this,” said NRB Chairman Dr. Frederick Prehn in a news release. “That also means making sure members of the agricultural community are part of this serious discussion which is why out of respect for their hard work during the harvest we ask for the public hearings to be held after November 1.”

By law, if the statewide performance standards and prohibitions do not achieve state water quality standards, the DNR may develop targeted performance standards.

“This is a critical issue that needs a transparent, robust public input process. The research shows that 39 percent of Wisconsinites rely on private wells for their drinking water and thousands of those wells have nitrate levels so high the water is unsafe. We must fix that,” said DNR Deputy Secretary Todd Ambs in the release. “We look forward to beginning that discussion in November as we work toward the goal of clean safe drinking water for the citizens of Wisconsin.”

Nitrate is Wisconsin’s most widespread groundwater contaminant. About 90 percent of nitrate in groundwater originates from agricultural sources, such as land application of fertilizers and manure. Much of nitrate comes from fertilizer applied to corn fields and use of nitrogen fertilizer has been increasing for decades. Elevated nitrate can cause miscarriage, congenital disabilities, elevated cancer risk and other disorders.

Following these three preliminary public hearings, the next step is the DNR seeking NRB approval of the scope statement, which then allows the department to start a rulemaking process.

The public can watch board meeting webcasts online. After each meeting, the webcast will be permanently available on demand.