Nitrate in Nebraska

Nitrate

What is Nitrate and where does it come from?

By Crystal Powers and Katie Pekarek

Nitrogen is a valuable fertilizer source that keeps Nebraska growing abundant landscapes and crops. Nitrogen that does not get used by the crop ends up in our streams, lakes and groundwater. Nitrate is the most common form of nitrogen found in water.

Impacts (Health, Economic, and Recreation)

Nitrate in Nebraska waters has economic, recreation, and health impacts for all of our citizens.

  • Farmers recognize the economic and opportunity loss of nitrogen that is not utilized for growing crops.
  • Millions of tax dollars are managed by Natural Resources Districts, Cities, and conservation agencies to prevent and treat nitrate contamination of water annually.
  • Nearly 1 in 5 Public Water Supplies and private wells in Nebraska consitantly tests high for nitrate-nitrogen.  This number is growing. (NDEE Groundwater Report, Risk and Cost Assessment of Nitrate Contamination in domestic wells).
  • Nitrate is a significant contributor to the presence of Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs). Public beaches in Nebraska are monitored for HABs and closed if the level gets to high.  
  • Long term exposure of high nitrate levels can harm fish and their habitats as the result of excessive aquatic plant growth, modified pH, and lowered dissolved oxygen levels.
  • Research has long shown that nitrate exposure is a hazard for infants.  Emerging research has shown there is a statistically significant lifetime risk of negative birth outcomes, thyroid disease, and certain cancers (Reference). The drinking water standard for nitrate in water is 10 mg/L.

2022 Bazile Groundwater Management Field Day on June 30

Northeast Nebraska farmers and agricultural professionals will learn about tools they can implement to mitigate nitrogen loss at the 2022 Bazile Groundwater Management Demonstration Field Day. Hosts for the day include Lewis and Clark NRD, Lower Elkhorn NRD, Lower Niobrara NRD and Upper Elkhorn NRD and local Nebraska Extension Water and Integrating Cropping Systems extension educators with funding provided from the Nebraska Environmental Trust. Speakers will address important tools that can be used to mitigate nitrogen loss. The BGMA Demo Field Day is scheduled for Thursday June 30, 2022 southeast of Creighton, Nebraska (From Hwy 59 and Hwy 14 Junction, go three miles south on Hwy 14, then one mile west on 869 Rd and a ½ mile south on 523 Ave.). The field day will start with registration at 1 p.m. with the educational programing starting at 1:30 p.m. and ends at 7 p.m.

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Join Citizen Science + Water Quality

Join over 800 Nebraskans who are already exploring our water! This FREE Water Quality Testing program for plant nutrients (nitrate, nitrite, phosphate) is seeking volunteers to join the fourth year of testing surface and groundwater in Nebraska.

Learn more and sign up by visiting go.unl.edu/wqcs

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Know Your Well Project Educating a New Generation on the Importance of Safe Drinking Water for Nebraska

Student collecting water from a hydrant

Know Your Well project has been teaching high school students about sampling drinking water since 2017. Read these students' stories and the ongoing impact of this program.

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“Public Health and Water Quality” Webinar Series Being Offered in January and February

Public Health and water quality webinar series information flyer
Have you ever wondered if the water you are drinking is safe? Who studies the impacts of contaminates on my health? These are questions commonly asked throughout the state especially when there are stories continually discussing contaminates in the water we drink.

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Now is the Time to Use the Nutrients You are Banking in Your Soils

By incorporating residual nitrate-nitrogen into the nitrogen fertilizer prescription, there is potential to substantially reduce fertilizer cost per acre.
With the recent increase in fertilizer prices, it is more important than ever to use the right amount of fertilizer to maximize the economic returns. Applying too little or too much fertilizer can result in substantial economic loss.

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