A study of the quality of ground water beneath irrigated cropland was completed for the northern and southern High Plains aquifer. Ground-water samples were collected from 30 water-table monitoring wells in the northern agricultural land-use (NAL) study area in Nebraska in 2004 and 29 water-table monitoring wells in the southern agricultural land-use (SAL) study area in Texas in 2003. The two study areas represented different agricultural and hydrogeologic settings. The primary crops grown in the NAL study area were corn and soybeans, and the primary crop in the SAL study area was cotton. Overall, pesticide and fertilizer application rates were larger in the NAL study area. Also, precipitation and recharge rates were greater in the NAL study area, and depths to water and evapotranspiration rates were greater in the SAL study area.
Ground-water quality beneath irrigated cropland was different in the two study areas. Nitrate concentrations were larger and pesticide detections were more frequent in the NAL study area. Nitrate concentrations in NAL samples ranged from 1.96 to 106 mg/L (milligrams per liter) as nitrogen, with a median concentration of 10.6 mg/L. Water in 73 percent of NAL samples had at least one pesticide or pesticide degradate detected. Most of the pesticide compounds detected (atrazine, alachlor, metolachlor, simazine, and degradates of those pesticides) are applied to corn and soybean fields. Nitrate concentrations in SAL samples ranged from 0.96 to 21.6 mg/L, with a median of 4.12 mg/L. Water in 24 percent of SAL samples had at least one pesticide or pesticide degradate detected. The pesticide compounds detected were deethylatrazine (a degradate of atrazine and propazine), propazine, fluometuron, and tebuthiuron. Most of the pesticides detected are applied to cotton fields.
Dissolved-solids concentrations were larger in the SAL area and were positively correlated with both nitrate and chloride concentrations, suggesting a combination of human and natural sources. Dissolved-solids concentrations in NAL samples ranged from 272 to 2,160 mg/L, with a median of 442 mg/L, and dissolved solids in SAL samples ranged from 416 to 3,580 mg/L, with a median of 814 mg/L.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Ground-Water Quality Beneath Irrigated Cropland of the Northern and Southern High Plains Aquifer, Nebraska and Texas, 2003-04
Scientific Investigations Report
Nebraska Water Science Center, National Water Quality Assessment Program