Standard Article

Nitrate Pollution Prevention

Agricultural Water

  1. Brane Maticic

Published Online: 15 JUL 2005

DOI: 10.1002/047147844X.aw1508

Water Encyclopedia

Water Encyclopedia

How to Cite

Maticic, B. 2005. Nitrate Pollution Prevention. Water Encyclopedia. 3:637–640.

Author Information

  1. Ljubljana, Slovenia

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 15 JUL 2005


Groundwater and springwater are sources used for water supply in many countries. The pollution of surface and groundwater is caused mostly by the chemicals used in industry, urban wastes, and agriculture. The pollution of groundwater by nitrates, as well as the pollution of crops that we consume, is one of the most serious environmental concerns in most countries. Drinking water and eating vegetables with high amounts of nitrate and nitrite are toxic, especially for children and babies. It is not nitrate that is toxic, but the compounds derived from it, nitrites and nitrosamines.

To identify nitrogen surpluses (that may influence pollution of groundwater and surface waters) due to agricultural technology used in different countries, it is advisable to demonstrate a “mineral (nitrogen) balance” on regional and farm levels using a normative approach. In the most intensive arable region with a high intensity of animal husbandry (>2 LU/ha), nitrate surpluses are supposed to be found in the soil, crops and groundwater. These regions can be identified as vulnerable for nitrogen leaching into groundwater. In regions with limited growing conditions for agricultural plants (climate, soil depth), a small increase in livestock density can cause high nitrogen surpluses (karst regions).

To reduce mineral (nitrogen) surpluses in agriculture and to meet the standards of nitrate and nitrite in drinking water and crops, it is necessary to control water and food quality in connection with nitrates and nitrites and to exact certain regulations regarding change in agriculture, especially animal excrement management.

The regulations should give and follow different norms such as: the maximum allowed intensity of raising animals, proper timing for the application of organic manure on soil, the highest quantities of mineral fertilizers allowed per hectare, and suitably built dung yards and cesspools.

When the world is going through many changes regarding exploitation of its natural resources and environmental protection, new ideas for efficient and sustainable water management of agricultural land are very important to protect the quality of groundwater and water in rivers, as well as crops that we consume.


  • groundwater;
  • surface water;
  • agricultural pollution;
  • fertilization;
  • irrigation;
  • crops;
  • nitrate;
  • nitrite;
  • mineral balance;
  • nitrate directive;
  • good agricultural practice;
  • perched water;
  • drainage;
  • phytoremediation lagoons