Nebraska Water Center Receives Grant to Research Nitrate Mitigation

Nebraska Water Center Receives Grant to Research Nitrate Mitigation

The Nebraska Environmental Trust recently awarded $85,000 to the University of Nebraska to fund a new research project, “Novel approaches for controlling nitrate leaching and protecting Nebraska groundwater,” conducted by the Nebraska Water Center, part of the Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute. This is the first year of the award; there is potential for second-year funding totaling $79,306.

Nitrate is the most common contaminant affecting ground water quality worldwide and a frequent compliance issue in public drinking water supplies throughout the United States and Nebraska. Though much effect has been directed at nitrogen and irrigation water management, few alternatives exist to treat nitrate lost from the crops. This project will demonstrate how subsoil injection of an abundant carbon source (recycled sawdust and wood shavings) will establish a biologically active layer for interception and removing dissolved nitrate after it has left the crop root zone. Bench tests will be conducted to evaluate the best recycled wood sources, proper depth to intercept leaching nitrate, and be followed with a two-year pilot study on three to four cooperator fields in Nebraska. The information collected will permit a cost/benefit analysis to determine the economic feasibility of using this practice to treat nitrate-N in recharge water beneath fertilized cropland.

“This project is innovative because it provides a new, economical approach for improving groundwater quality,” said Daniel Snow, director of services at the University of Nebraska’s Water Sciences Laboratory and the project’s lead investigator. “Additionally, it could help Nebraska producers better understand the environmental need for protecting water quality.”

The overall goal is to offer a cost-effective method for producers and Nebraska Natural Resources Districts (NRDs) for reducing nitrate-N leaching beneath fertilized cropland in areas that are most vulnerable to ground-water contamination. Extension and outreach efforts will be directed toward increasing adoption of this and related management practices to control nitrate leaching across Nebraska. The research team intends to leverage data and programs from NRDs, and previous NET projects to help create a product that can fill a gap in protecting Nebraska ground water resources. In addition to Snow, the team includes Chittaranjan Ray, director of the Nebraska Water Center; Amy Schmidt, assistant professor, department of biological systems engineering, University of Nebraska; and Daniel Miller, research microbiologist with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service.

The Nebraska Water Center (NWC) is one of 54 Water Resources Research Institutes nationwide established by congressional mandate in 1964. The NWC focuses on helping the University of Nebraska become an international leader in water research, teaching, extension, and outreach. NWC helps arrange research addressing water problems or understanding of water; helps new water researchers; trains future water researchers and engineers; and publishes water research results to water professionals and the public through publications, research colloquiums, and conferences, lectures and tours.

The Nebraska Environmental Trust, created by the Nebraska Legislature in 1992, has used revenue from the Nebraska Lottery to provide over $289 million in grants to over 2,000 projects across the state. Anyone – citizens, organizations, communities, farmers, and businesses – can apply for funding to protect habitat, improve water quality and establish recycling programs in Nebraska. The Nebraska Environmental Trust works to preserve, protect and restore our natural resources for future generations.

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