Analysis of nitrate (NO3-N) concentration trends in 25 ground-water-quality management areas, Idaho, 1961-2001

Water-Resources Investigations Report 2002-4056
Prepared in cooperation with Idaho Department of Environmental Quality



In Idaho, drinking-water supplies are pumped from relatively shallow ground-water zones where water quality has great potential for degradation by land- and water-use activities. One indicator of water quality, and one of the most widespread contaminants in Idaho ground water related to land and water uses, is dissolved nitrate. In December 2000, the U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, began a study to compile and assess nitrate data for ground water in 25 ground-water-quality management areas in Idaho. The primary objective of the study was to determine whether statistically significant trends in ground-water concentrations were discernible. Data included ground-water analyses but not analyses of water from springs, drains, or thermal water sources. A total of 8,465 nitrate analyses were compiled from 2,931 wells in the 25 priority areas; analyses dates ranged from June 1961 to February 2001. A time-period comparison was used to assess general trends in nitrate concentrations within individual priority areas. A time-series comparison was used to assess trends in nitrate concentrations from selected wells in each priority area. In time-period assessments, general trends in an area were evaluated by compiling nitrate data for selected time intervals to determine whether the population distributions were significantly different between one period and another. Data within each priority area were sorted into decades— 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s—for long-term trend assessment. The 1990s data also were divided into sets of selected years corresponding to Statewide Ambient Ground-Water Quality Program sampling cycles—1991 through 1994, 1995 through 1998, and a partial cycle, 1999 through 2000—for shortterm trend assessment. Data were analyzed by summary statistics, boxplots, and the Mann- Whitney statistical test. Long-term increasing trends in nitrate concentrations were evident for 6 of 25 priority areas, and long-term decreasing trends were evident for 4 of 25 areas. Short-term increasing trends were evident for 7 of 25 areas, and a short-term decreasing trend was evident for only 1 area. No long-term nitrate trends were evident for 7 of 25 areas, and no shortterm trends were evident for 15 of 25 areas. Data were insufficient for long-term trend assessment in 8 areas and for short-term assessment in 2 areas. Time-series trend analyses were conducted on data from wells with 7 or more nitrate analyses and longest periods of record, at least 10 years between oldest and most recent analyses. Because long-term records were available for so few wells and well construction data were not available for several of these wells, time-series analyses were not helpful to the nitrate trend assessment study. Trend results may be strongly affected by well construction, hydrogeologic environments, and changes in density and areal distribution of wells and analyses. The utility of nitrate trend assessments in priority areas would be improved by more consistent and specific well location descriptions between agencies; well construction and major water-yielding zone information to accompany the water-quality data for each well; and addition of historical nitrate data to data bases, particularly analyses prior to about 1990. Investigations of the possible effects of changing priority area boundaries and time periods on both long-term and short-term trend assessments are needed. Addition of these kinds of information would allow assessment of trends associated with hydrology and geology of each area and would provide a much stronger basis for trend assessment than currently possible.

Study Area

Additional publication details

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Analysis of nitrate (NO3-N) concentration trends in 25 ground-water-quality management areas, Idaho, 1961-2001
Series title Water-Resources Investigations Report
Series number 2002-4056
DOI 10.3133/wri024056
Year Published 2002
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Idaho Water Science Center
Description iii, 60 p.
Time Range Start 1961-01-01
Time Range End 2001-12-31
Country United States
State Idaho