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Nitrate Contamination Of Groundwater In North America

J. Power, J. Schepers
Published 1989 · Environmental Science

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Abstract Groundwater serves as the primary domestic water supply for over 90% of the rural population and 50% of the total population of North America. Consequently, protection of groundwater from contamination is of major concern. This paper reviews the problem of controlling nitrate pollution of groundwater in North America. Nitrates in groundwater originate from a number of non-point sources, including geological origins, septic tanks, improper use of animal manures, cultivation (especially fallowing) precipitation, and fertilizers. Accumulation of nitrate N in groundwater is probably attributed to different sources for different regions. Major areas of nitrate pollution often occur under irrigation because leaching is required to control salt accumulation in the root zone. In the last few decades, areas under irrigation and the use of N fertilizers have increased greatly, and both of these have probably contributed to groundwater nitrate problems. Use of known best management practices (irrigation scheduling; fertilization based on calibrated soil tests; conservation tillage; acceptable cropping practices; recommended manuring rates) has been demonstrated to be highly effective in controlling leaching of nitrates. Government policies are needed that will encourage and reward the use of the best management practices that help control nitrate accumulations in groundwater.
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