what levels of nitrates are being found in our springs and groundwater

Due to the natural nitrogen cycle and anthropogenic processes, sources of nitrate concentration have greatly increased, particularly in springs and groundwater.

Often, elevated levels of nitrate in groundwater are caused by excessive use of fertilizers, run-off from feedlots, barnyards, or septic systems. Such elevated levels are closely associated with the possibility of other contaminants such as pesticides, organic and inorganic compounds that could trigger health problems. 

What Are The levels?

In groundwater, the natural Nitrate concentration is only a few milligrams per liter. However, that strongly depends on the geological situation and soil type. In the USA, for example, naturally occurring Nitrate levels don’t exceed 4–9 mg/l.  Due to agricultural activities, the concentration of nitrate can easily reach a couple of hundred milligrams per liter.

Nitrate contamination generally decreases as the depth of groundwater increases. It generally increases with higher aquifer vulnerability and higher nitrogen input. The Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is 10 parts per million (10 mg/L) for drinking water safety. 

How Do You Lower Nitrate Levels In Water

In groundwater, Nitrate-nitrogen may come from point sources like livestock facilities, sewage disposal systems as well as non-point sources. These may be fertilized cropland, gardens, lawns, parks, golf courses, or naturally occurring nitrogen sources.  Proper site selection of where to locate domestic water wells can reduce the potential of having Nitrate contamination of sources of drinking water.

Treatment processes like ion exchange usually have an immediate effect in terms of reducing Nitrate levels in drinking water sourced from springs and wells. Although these processes may not remove all of it, they assist in bringing down the concentration to the recommended 10mg/L level.

What Happens If There Is Too Much Nitrate In Water?

Because of its harmful biological effects, Nitrate is a contaminant in water from ground sources such as wells, and springs. High concentrations of Nitrate may cause methemoglobinemia as well as blue-baby syndrome or infant cyanosis.

An infant suffering from mild to moderate episodes of blue-baby syndrome may experience vomiting, have diarrhea, or be lethargic. Nitrate in drinking water has also been mentioned as a risk factor in intestinal cancer.

In cases that are more serious, infants start showing obvious cyanosis symptoms. The infant’s lips, skin, or nailbeds might start developing a bluish or slate-gray color and could experience trouble breathing. People having certain blood disorders, those with reduced stomach acidity and pregnant women may also be vulnerable to Methemoglobinemia that is Nitrate-induced. 

How Do You Test Nitrate Levels In Springs And Groundwater? 

Without testing, you cannot detect Nitrate in water because it is tasteless, colorless, and odorless. The only way of knowing if your drinking water, particularly from groundwater sources is Nitrate contaminated is by testing it.

If you just own a single domestic well, the recommendation is to have the water tested for Nitrate every three years. Boiling the water does not remove Nitrate. In fact, boiling might actually concentrate the nitrogenous compound because of water evaporation.

A low-cost nitrate screening test is possible with some dip tests or you can do a more comprehensive in-home screening test for well water. A laboratory water test for Nitrate is highly recommended especially if your household has infants, pregnant/nursing women, or elderly people.


High levels of nitrate in groundwater need to be recognized as harmful to both humans and animals. If a source of Nitrate is located too close to the water well and it’s not possible to move it, then having the well permanently sealed may be considered. If levels of this harmful compound are high enough and those affected don’t receive prompt medical attention, it can result in death.