Factors Affecting Nitrate Concentrations in Ground Water in Stafford County, Kansas


  • Margaret A. Townsend Kansas Geological Survey
  • David P. Young Kansas Geological Survey






Nitrate contamination of the Great Bend Prairie aquifer in south-central Kansas is more pronounced at shallower than at deeper portions of the aquifer. Factors influencing the occurrence of nitrate in the shallow ground water include irrigation-well density, subsurface clay lenses, and land-use practices. Ground-water samples were taken from 42 wells, including deep (irrigation) wells and shallow (domestic and stock) wells. Except for one well with an anomalously high concentration due to a point source, nitrate-N concentrations of sampled wells ranged from 1.3 to 13.3 mg/L with a mean of 5.4 mg/L and a median of 4.7 mg/L. Statistical analyses indicate that shallow ground water is more susceptible to contamination than deeper ground water and that lower nitrate-N concentrations are probable in wells with a greater thickness of clay above the well screen. Irrigation-well density showed a statistically significant positive correlation with nitrate-N concentrations of shallow wells. No significant difference in nitrate-N concentrations was found to result from the two irrigation methods (flood versus center-pivot) used in the area. Nor were there significant differences in nitrate-N concentrations between sandy and loamy soils. Land-use practices and subsurface stratigraphy may be better indicators of potential nitrate contamination than the surface soils.


Anderson, H. W. Jr., 1989, Effects of agriculture on quality of water in surficial sand-plain aquifers in Douglas, Kandiyohi, Pope, and Stearns counties, Minnesota: U.S. Geological Survey, Water Resources Investigation Report 84-4040, 52 p.

Boyce, J. S., Muir, J., Edwards, A. P., Seim, E. C., and Olson, R. A., 1976, Geologic nitrogen in Pleistocene loess of Nebraska: Journal of Environmental Quality, v. 5, no. 1, p. 93–96

Conover, W. J., 1980, Practical nonparametric statistics: New York, John Wiley and Sons, p. 363–367

Dodge, D. A., Hoffman, B. R., and Horsch, M. L., 1978, Soil survey of Stafford County, Kansas: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Soil Conservation Service, Washington, D.C., 59 p.

Hallberg, G. R., 1986, From hoes to herbicides—agriculture and groundwater quality: Journal Soil and Water Conservation, v. 41, p. 357–364

Hathaway, L. R., Galle, O. K., Waugh, T. C., and Dickey, H. P., 1978, Chemical quality of irrigation waters in Ford County and the Great Bend Prairie of Kansas: Kansas Geological Survey, Chemical Quality Series 7, 41 p.

Kansas Board of Agriculture, 1887, Fifth biennial report of the Kansas State Board of Agriculture to the Legislature of the State, for the years 1885–86: Kansas Publishing House, Topeka, p. 540–545

Keeney, D., 1986, Sources of nitrate to ground water: CRC Critical Review Environmental Control, v. 16, p. 257–304

Latta, B. F., 1950, Geology and ground-water resources of Barton and Stafford counties, Kansas: Kansas Geological Survey, Bulletin 88, 228 p.

Madison, R. J., and Brunett, J. O., 1984, Overview of the occurrence of nitrate in ground water of the United States; in, USGS National Water Summary 1984: U.S. Geological Survey, Water-Supply Paper 2275, p. 93–105 \

Muir, J., Seim, E. C., and Olson, R. A., 1973, A study of factors influencing the nitrogen and phosphorous contents of Nebraska waters: Journal of Environmental Quality, v. 2, no. 4, p. 466–470

Rosner, M. L., 1988, The stratigraphy of the Quaternary alluvium in the Great Bend Prairie, Kansas: MS thesis, University of Kansas, Lawrence, 183 p. (available as Kansas Geological Survey, Open-file Report 88-32)

Sophocleous, M., Townsend, M. A., Orountiotis, C., Evenson, R. A., Whittemore, D. O., Watts, C. E., and Marks, E. T., 1990, Movement and aquifer contamination potential of atrazine and inorganic chemicals in central Kansas cropland: Kansas Geological Survey, Ground Water Series 12, 64 p.

Spalding, M. E., 1984, Implication of temporal variations and vertical stratification of groundwater nitrate-nitrogen in the Hall County special use area: Nebraska Water Resources Research Institute, Report no. 372906, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, 44 p.

Spalding, R. F., and Exner, M. E., 1993, Occurrence of nitrate in groundwater—a review: Journal of Environmental Quality, v. 22, p. 392–402

Spalding, R. F., and Kitchen, L. A., 1988, Nitrate in the intermediate vadose zone beneath irrigated cropland: Ground Water Monitoring Review, v. 8, p. 89–95

Spalding, R. F., Gormly, J. R., Curtiss, B. H., and Exner, M. E., 1978, Nonpoint nitrate contamination of ground water in Merrick County, Nebraska: Ground Water, v. 16, p. 86–95

Steichen, J., Koelliker, J., Grosh, D., Heiman, A., Yearout, R., and Robbins, V., 1988, Contamination of farmstead wells by pesticides, volatile organics, and inorganic chemicals in Kansas: Ground Water Monitoring Review, v. 8, no. 3, p. 153– 160

Stullken, L. E., Stamer, J. K., and Carr, J. E., 1987, Reconnaissance of water quality in the High Plains aquifer beneath agricultural lands, south-central Kansas: U.S. Geological Survey, Water Resources Investigation Report 87-4003, 25 p.

Thompson, C. A., Libra, R. D., and Hallberg, G. R., 1986, Water quality related to agchemicals in alluvial aquifers in Iowa; in, Proceedings of the Agricultural Impacts on Ground Water—a Conference, August 11–13, 1986, Omaha, Nebraska: National Water Well Association, Dublin, Ohio, p. 224–242

Townsend, M. A., and Marks, E. T., 1990, Occurrence of nitrate in soil and ground water in south-central Kansas; in, Proceedings Ground Water Management, 1990 Cluster of Conferences, Kansas City, Missouri, 20–21 February: National Water Well Association, Dublin, Ohio, p. 145–158

U.S. Geological Survey, 1974, Water resources data for Kansas, Part 2, Water Quality Records: U.S. Department of the Interior, p. 184

Whittemore, D. O., 1993, Ground-water geochemistry in the mineral intrusion area of Groundwater Management District No. 5, south-central Kansas: Kansas Geological Survey, Openfile Report 93-2, 107 p.

Young, D. P., 1992, Nitrate contamination of ground water in northern Stafford County, Kansas: M.S. thesis, University of Kansas, Lawrence, 94 p. (available as Kansas Geological Survey, Open-file Report 92-11)