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The Nitrate Contamination Concern

EPA
Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) for public water supplies 10 ppm nitrate-nitrogen

MCL (Maximum Contaminant Level)


Enforceable standard for public water supplies

Private Wells
Private water supplies are not legally required to meet MCL . . . . HOWEVER, to ensure safe drinking water, test for nitrate-nitrogen

Nitrate in Drinking Water


Major Health Risk
Methemoglobinemia in infants (blue baby syndrome)

Non-Point Source Contamination

Non-Point Source Contamination Single source cannot be identified

Nitrate Leaching Loss Water Table

Sources for non -point non-point contamination vary. . . .

Where is the nitrate problem found?

Wells with nitrate-nitrogen concentration greater than 10 ppm

Well

Why does nitrate loss happen?

Why does nitrate loss happen?


The soil is a porous system

Why does nitrate loss happen?


The soil is a porous system

Nitrate is highly soluble in water -it goes where the water goes

Why does nitrate loss happen?


The soil is a porous system

Nitrate is highly soluble in water -it goes where the water goes zone takes nitrate with it

Excess water draining from the root

Some nitrate leaching will always occur under continuous corn or a cornsoybean rotation

Nitrate leaching can occur under any cropping system

Nitrate leaching occurs in both pivot- and furrowirrigated fields

Nitrate-N in the Top 25 ft of Soil


(Hamilton (Hamilton County County) )

Excess nitrogen or excess water makes the problem worse

How much nitrogen loss occurs per year?

Six Years of UNL Research on Sprinkler-Irrigated Corn at North Platte

Six Years of UNL Research on Sprinkler-Irrigated Corn at North Platte


Avg. N Loss 53 lb/ac over 12 months Range 18 - 83 lb/ac

Six Years of UNL Research on Sprinkler-Irrigated Corn at North Platte


Avg. N Loss 53 lb/ac over 12 months Range 18 - 83 lb/ac Avg. Root Zone Drainage 9.3 inches per year Range 3.6 - 15.1 inches of drainage

Six Years of UNL Research on Sprinkler-Irrigated Corn at North Platte


Avg. N Loss 53 lb/ac over 12 months Range 18 - 83 lb/ac Avg. Root Zone Drainage 9.3 inches per year Range 3.6 - 15.1 inches of drainage Avg. Drainage Nitrate-N Concentration 25 ppm Range of 19 - 35 ppm

UNL Research on Furrow-Irrigated Conventional Tilled Corn at Clay Center

UNL Research on Furrow-Irrigated Conventional Tilled Corn at Clay Center


Avg. N Loss 64 to 70 lb/ac over 12 months

UNL Research on Furrow-Irrigated Conventional Tilled Corn at Clay Center


Avg. N Loss 64 to 70 lb/ac over 12 months Avg. Root Zone Drainage 9 - 11 inches per year

UNL Research on Furrow-Irrigated Conventional Tilled Corn at Clay Center


Avg. N Loss 64 to 70 lb/ac over 12 months Avg. Root Zone Drainage 9 - 11 inches per year

Avg. Drainage Nitrate-N Concentration 27 -30 ppm

Grain Yields, Water Use, and Irrigation


Continuous corn at North Platte
1985 -87 1985-87
Dryland Dryland Irrigation Irrigation Full Limited Full Limited

Irrigation Irrigation (in) (in) Rainfall Rainfall (in) (in) Stored Stored Soil Soil Water Water Used Used (in) (in) ET ET (in) (in) Grain Grain Yield Yield (bu/ac) (bu/ac)

0.0 0.0 6.5 6.5 7.9 7.9 14.4 14.4 59.0 59.0

5.7 5.7 6.5 6.5 6.4 6.4 18.6 18.6 135.0 135.0

15.6 15.6 6.5 6.5 0.3 0.3 22.4 22.4 178.0 178.0

How long does it take for nitrate to reach the groundwater?

Shallow Groundwater

30 ft or less Groundwater

Travel time? A few days to a few months


30 ft or less Groundwater

Deep Groundwater

75-100 ft

Finetextured materials Groundwater

Travel time? 20 -30 years 20-30


75-100 ft Finetextured materials Groundwater

Nitrate movement below the crop root zone . . . .


3 ft/yr under furrow irrigation on a Hastings Silt Loam near Clay Center

75 ft to water table 25-year transit time

1300 -1500 lbs/ac nitrate-nitrogen in transit to the water table

The Challenge

Profitable crop production while ensuring safe drinking water