Logistic regression was used to relate anthropogenic (manmade) and natural variables to the occurrence of elevated nitrate concentrations in ground water in Washington State. Variables that were analyzed included well depth, ground-water recharge rate, precipitation, population density, fertilizer application amounts, soil characteristics, hydrogeomorphic regions, and land-use types. Two models were developed: one with and one without the hydrogeomorphic regions variable. The variables in both models that best explained the occurrence of elevated nitrate concentrations (defined as concentrations of nitrite plus nitrate as nitrogen greater than 2 milligrams per liter) were the percentage of agricultural land use in a 4-kilometer radius of a well, population density, precipitation, soil drainage class, and well depth. Based on the relations between these variables and measured nitrate concentrations, logistic regression models were developed to estimate the probability of nitrate concentrations in ground water exceeding 2 milligrams per liter. Maps of Washington State were produced that illustrate these estimated probabilities for wells drilled to 145 feet below land surface (median well depth) and the estimated depth to which wells would need to be drilled to have a 90-percent probability of drawing water with a nitrate concentration less than 2 milligrams per liter. Maps showing the estimated probability of elevated nitrate concentrations indicated that the agricultural regions are most at risk followed by urban areas. The estimated depths to which wells would need to be drilled to have a 90-percent probability of obtaining water with nitrate concentrations less than 2 milligrams per liter exceeded 1,000 feet in the agricultural regions; whereas, wells in urban areas generally would need to be drilled to depths in excess of 400 feet.
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USGS Numbered Series
Estimating the Probability of Elevated Nitrate Concentrations in Ground Water in Washington State