Evaluating Chemical Tracers as Indicators of Nitrate-Nitrogen Sources in Groundwater

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Amy Nitka, William DeVita and Paul McGinley, University of Wisconsin Stevens Point, Stevens Point, WI, United States
Groundwater nitrate-N concentrations greater than 3 mg/L usually indicate contamination from either agriculture or wastewater disposal. The objective of this study was to use chemical indicators to reliably determine sources of nitrate contamination in private wells. We developed an analytical method for a suite of human waste indicators. The selection of chemical tracers was based on their likely occurrence and mobility in groundwater. The suite included artificial sweeteners, pharmaceuticals and personal care products. Pesticide metabolites were used to identify contamination due to agricultural practices. A densely populated suburban area with adjacent agricultural land was selected. Eighteen private water supply wells and six monitoring wells were analyzed for nitrate-N and contaminant indicators. All of the wells with nitrate concentrations greater than 3 mg/L had at least one chemical indicator. Of these, 90% had two or more human waste contaminants, 40% had pesticide metabolites, and 30% had both. Of the wells with nitrate greater than 10 mg/L, 80% had two or more human waste indicators, 70% had pesticide metabolites, and 50% had both. The results of this research will help direct land management decisions and selection of appropriate water treatment options.