Previously collected and new water-quality data from shallow wells (screened interval less than 30 meters below the land surface) in predominantly agricultural areas of the New Jersey Coastal Plain were used to determine the relation of nitrate concentrations in shallow ground water to various hydrogeologic and land-use factors in the study area. Information on land use, well construction, hydrogeology, and water quality were used to predict the conditions under which concentrations of nitrate as nitrogen in water from domestic wells in predominantly agricultural areas are most likely to be equal to or larger than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency maximum contaminant level (MCL) of 10 milligrams per liter. Results of the analyses of water-quality samples collected during 1980-89 from 230 shallow wells in the outcrop areas of the Kirkwood-Cohansey and Potomac-Raritan-Magothy aquifer systems were used to evaluate the regional effects of land use on shallow-ground-water quality. Results of statistical analysis indicate that concentrations of nitrate in shallow ground water are significantly different (p= 0.001) in agricultural areas than in undeveloped areas in both aquifer systems. Concentrations of nitrate nitrogen exceeded the MCL in water from more than 33 percent of the 60 shallow wells in agricultural areas. Concentrations of hitrate in water from shallow wells in agricultural areas increased as the percentage of agricultural land within an 800-meter-radius buffer zone of the wellhead increased (r= 0.81). Concentrations ofhitrate in water from domestic wells in agricultural areas were similar (p= 0.23) to those concentrations in water from irrigation wells. These results indicate that most of the nitrate in water from domestic wells in agricultural areas results from agricultural practices rather than other sources, such as septic systems. Water-quality samples collected from 12 shallow domestic wells in agricultural areas screened in the outcrop areas of the Kirkwood-Cohansey and Potomac-Raritan-Magothy aquifer systems were used to evaluate the local effects of hydrogeologic conditions and land-use activities on shallow-ground-water quality. Concentrations of water-quality constituents in these wells were similar among four sampling events over a l-year span. The concentration of hitrate in water from 6 of the 12 wells exceeded the MCL. Concentrations of nitrate greater than the MCL are associated with: values of specific conductance greater than 200 microsiemens per centimeter at 25 degrees Celsius, a screened interval whose top is less than 20 meters below land surface, concentrations of dissolved oxygen greater than 6 milligrams per liter, presence of pesticides in the ground water, a distance of less than 250 meters between the wellhead and the surfacewater divide, and presence of livestock near the wellhead. Ratios of stable isotopes of nitrogen in the water samples indicate that the source of hitrate in the ground water was predominantly chemical fertilizers rather than livestock wastes or effluent from septic systems.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Indicators of the sources and distribution of nitrate in water from shallow domestic wells in agricultural areas of the New Jersey Coastal Plain
Water-Resources Investigations Report
U.S. Geological Survey ;
U.S.G.S. Earth Science Information Center, Open-File Reports Section [distributor],