Many sources contribute to the nitrogen found in surface water in Illinois. Illinois is located in the most productive agricultural area in the country, and nitrogen fertilizer is commonly used to maximize corn production in this area. Additionally, septic/wastewater systems, industrial emissions, and lawn fertilizer are common sources of nitrogen in urban areas of Illinois. In agricultural areas, the use of fertilizer has increased grain production to meet the needs of a growing population, but also has resulted in increases in nitrogen concentrations in many streams and aquifers (Dubrovsky and others, 2010). The urban sources can increase nitrogen concentrations, too. The Federal limit for nitrate nitrogen in water that is safe to drink is 10 milligrams per liter (mg/L) (http://water.epa.gov/drink/contaminants/basicinformation/nitrate.cfm, accessed on May 24, 2013). In addition to the concern with nitrate nitrogen in drinking water, nitrogen, along with phosphorus, is an aquatic concern because it feeds the intensive growth of algae that are responsible for the hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico. The largest nitrogen flux to the waters feeding the Gulf of Mexico is from Illinois (Alexander and others, 2008). Most studies of nitrogen in surface water and groundwater include samples for nitrate nitrogen collected weekly or monthly, but nitrate concentrations can change rapidly and these discrete samples may not capture rapid changes in nitrate concentrations that can affect human and aquatic health. Continuous monitoring for nitrate could inform scientists and water-resource managers of these changes and provide information on the transport of nitrate in surface water and groundwater.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Real-time continuous nitrate monitoring in Illinois in 2013