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.

“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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The science behind 50-degree soil and nitrogen application

graphic of thermometer
Does nitrogen becoming nitrate mean we are going to lose it? No, it takes rainfall or snowmelt in the spring that will cause a leaching event, but it does increase the risk of loss. Certainly, there is a balance between making sure we get our manure applied before the soil freezes and applying too early, but hopefully the information above illustrates a bit behind the science of the 50°F and cooling recommendation.

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Nebraska Nitrate Working Groups - Summary and Call for Action

An aerial view of pivot circles
Collaborating organizations
Aubudon Nebraska
Aubudon Nebraska
Central Platte Natural Resources District

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