July 2018

By Sarah Green

Kansas Community Featured in National

Press Prompts New Conversation About

Groundwater Challenges . . . Across the State

A national look at a local challenge

recent story in a national publication has turned new

attention to groundwater quality in Kansas.

In “Drinking Problems: A Kansas town confronts a tap-

water crisis” in the May 2018 issue of Harper’s Magazine,

journalist Elizabeth Royte tells the story of Pretty Prairie,

Kansas, and its history of high nitrates in its drinking


The Reno County community is in the process of

building a treatment plant with an estimated cost of about

$3 million to lower the nitrate level in the city’s drinking

water, which has exceeded the U.S. Environmental

Protection Agency’s Maximum Contaminant Level for

nitrates for decades.

The city has, over the years, tried a number of

solutions to provide low-nitrate water to at-risk

populations, such as pregnant and nursing mothers and

infants. The EPA considers these people most likely to

develop health issues related to nitrates, such as

methemoglobinemia, or “blue baby syndrome,” where

babies aren’t able to get enough oxygen in their blood to

function properly.

When nitrate levels in Pretty Prairie rose instead of

falling, the EPA and the Kansas Department of Health and

Environment issued orders requiring Pretty Prairie to find

a more permanent solution to their nitrate challenge – the

multi-million dollar treatment plant.