Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute


Date of this Version


Document Type



Published in Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 308 (2021) 107223



Copyright /© 2020 Elsevier B.V. Used by permission.


There is a need to evaluate high surface nitrate concentrations across agricultural watersheds, both spatially and temporally, to increase understanding of source and timing of nitrogen loads in streams and rivers. Bazile Creek is a high-nitrate stream originating in the agriculturally intensive Bazile Groundwater Management Area of Eastern Nebraska, USA. It is a gaining stream that receives groundwater with high nitrate concentrations originating from nonpoint sources. The objective of this study was to determine spatial and temporal variability of baseflow nitrate concentrations in Bazile Creek and its tributaries and to relate this variability to watershed characteristics. Surface-water nitrate samples were collected monthly from July 2018 through September 2019 from nine sites in the watershed and were analyzed for nitrate concentration. Average surface water nitrate-N concentrations within the watershed ranged from 2.7 to 15 mg L–1 and were significantly different between the sites (p < 0.05). Surface water nitrate-N concentrations varied seasonally in the main channel, recording the highest concentrations in winter (December-February, average = 14.4 mg L–1) when the discharge was minimum. High nitrate-N concentrations were observed in two of the five sampled tributaries, suggesting steady inputs of high-nitrate groundwater. The results of this study reveal substantial spatial variation in surface-water nitrate concentrations in the headwaters despite the close proximity of sampling sites. This study demonstrates that sampling tributaries along with the main channel of a stream is beneficial in determining nitrate inputs, variability and overall contaminant loading to a watershed.