Natural Resources, School of


Long-Term Response of Groundwater Nitrate Concentrations to Management Regulations in Nebraska’s Central Platte Valley

Mary Exner Spalding, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Hugo Perea- Estrada, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Roy F. Spalding, University of Nebraska - Lincoln

Document Type Article

©2010 with author. Published by TheScientificWorld


The impact of 16 years (1988–2003) of management practices on high groundwater nitrate concentrations in Nebraska’s central Platte River valley was assessed in a 58,812- ha (145,215-ac) groundwater quality management area intensively cropped to irrigated corn (Zea mays L.). Crop production and groundwater nitrate data were obtained from ~23,800 producer reports. The terrace, comprising ~56% of the study area, is much more intensively cropped to irrigated corn than the bottomland. From 1987 to 2003, average groundwater nitrate concentrations in the primary aquifer beneath the bottomland remained static at ~8 mg N/l. During the same period, average groundwater nitrate concentrations in the primary aquifer beneath the terrace decreased from 26.4 to 22.0 mg N/l at a slow, but significant (p < 0.0001), rate of 0.26 mg N/l/year. Approximately 20% of the decrease in nitrate concentrations can be attributed to increases in the amount of N removed from fields as a consequence of small annual increases in yield. During the study, producers converted ~15% of the ~28,300 furrow-irrigated terrace hectares (~69,800 ac) to sprinkler irrigation. The conversion is associated with about an additional 50% of the decline in the nitrate concentration, and demonstrates the importance of both improved water and N management. Average N fertilizer application rates on the terrace were essentially unchanged during the study. The data indicate that groundwater nitrate concentrations have responded to improved management practices instituted by the Central Platte Natural Resources District.