Nitrate and herbicide loading in two groundwater basins of Illinois' sinkhole plain

S. V. Panno, W. R. Kelly

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This investigation was designed to estimate the mass loading of nitrate (NO3-) and herbicides in spring water discharging from groundwater basins in an agriculturally dominated, mantled karst terrain. The loading was normalized to land use and NO3- and herbicide losses were compared to estimated losses in other agricultural areas of the Midwestern USA. Our study area consisted of two large karst springs that drain two adjoining groundwater basins (total area of 37.7 km2) in southwestern Illinois' sinkhole plain, USA. The springs and stream that they form were monitored for almost 2 years. Nitrate-nitrogen (NO3-N) concentrations at three monitoring sites were almost always above the background concentration (1.9 mg/l). NO3-N concentrations at the two springs ranged from 1.08 to 6.08 with a median concentration of 3.61 mg/l. Atrazine and alachlor concentrations ranged from <0.01 to 34 μg/l and <0.01 to 0.98 μg/l, respectively, with median concentrations of 0.48 and 0.12 μg/l, respectively. Approximately 100,000 kg/yr of NO3-N, 39 kg/yr of atrazine, and 2.8 kg/yr of alachlor were discharged from the two springs. Slightly more than half of the discharged NO3- came from background sources and most of the remainder probably came from fertilizer. This represents a 21-31% loss of fertilizer N from the groundwater basins. The pesticide losses were 3.8-5.8% of the applied atrazine, and 0.05-0.08% of the applied alachlor. The loss of atrazine adsorbed to the suspended solid fraction was about 2 kg/yr, only about 5% of the total mass of atrazine discharged from the springs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)229-242
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Hydrology
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - May 25 2004


  • Agriculture
  • Illinois
  • Karst
  • Nitrate
  • Pesticides

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


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