Groundwater quality and nitrogen use efficiency in Nebraska's Central Platte River Valley

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37 Scopus citations


Groundwater nitrate contamination has been an issue in the Platte River Valley of Nebraska since the 1960s, with groundwater nitrate-N concentrations frequently in excess of 10 mg L-1. This article summarizes education and regulatory efforts to reduce the environmental impact of irrigated crop production in the Platte River Valley. In 1988, a Groundwater Management Area (GWMA) was implemented in the Central Platte Natural Resources District to encourage adoption of improved management practices. Since 1988, there have been steady declines in average groundwater nitrate-N concentrations of about 0.15 mg NO3-N L-1 yr-1 in much of the GWMA (from 19 to 15 mg NO3-N L-1). However, N use efficiency (NUE) (partial factor productivity for N [PFPN]) has increased very little from 1988 to 2012 (60-65 kg grain kg N-1), whereas statewide PFPN increased from 49 to 67 kg grain kg N-1 in the same period. Although growers are encouraged to credit N from sources besides fertilizer (e.g., soil residual, legumes, irrigation water, and manure), confidence in and use of credits tended to decrease as credits became larger; there was a tendency toward an average N rate regardless of credit-based recommendations. This information, coupled with data from other studies, suggests that much of the decline in groundwater nitrate can be attributed to improved irrigation management-especially conversion from furrow to sprinkler irrigation-and to a lesser extent to improved timing of N application. The development and adoption of improved N management practices, such as fertigation, controlled-release N formulation, and use of crop canopy sensors for in-season N application may be required for further significant NUE gains in these irrigated systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)449-459
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Environmental Quality
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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