Nitrate-nitrogen (nitrates) is a nutrient required by aquatic flora for growth and reproduction. However, when high concentrations of nitrates make their way into groundwater and surface waters, problems often arise.
High nitrate concentrations may create an imbalance in a natural surfacewater system, causing excessive growth of algae and other vegetation. In shallow areas an overabundance of algae blocks the light needed by underwater vegetation. Algae take up dissolved oxygen as they die and decompose. The resulting lack of oxygen affects fish, shellfish, and aquatic invertebrates.
High nitrate levels can create health concerns, too. Concentrations that exceed the federal drinking water standard (10 mg of Nitrate as Nitrogen per liter of water) can result in methemoglobinemia, or "blue baby" syndrome.
For information about health risks related to nitrates, please visit the Florida Department of Health website.
For information about nitrate levels within the District, use our interactive nitrate data map.
Where do nitrates come from?
Sources of nitrates in groundwater and surface waters are septic tanks, atmospheric deposition, fertilizers, and animal waste.
Elevated nitrate concentrations have been found in groundwater, springs, and rivers in the District, particularly in the Suwannee River Basin. Monitoring and studies are underway to identify trends in nitrates.
Reports and studies are available upon request by contacting Carlos Herd at 386.362.1001.
The District is working with other agencies and individuals to monitor and reduce the level of nitrates in our groundwater and surface waters.
The Suwannee River Partnership was formed in 1999 to coordinate efforts between government agencies, farmers and growers, and local citizens to find solutions to the nitrate problem in the Middle Suwannee basin.
For more information on nitrate, see Upchurch 2007.
The Department of Health offers a publication titled "Drinking Water: Is Yours Safe?" This brochure addresses the problem of lead, bacteria, nitrates and other contaminants in drinking water. Request copies from your nearest County Health Department office, the main Department of Health office in Tallahassee or download it from the Florida Department of Health website.