Nitrate contamination of water is a worldwide issue. Nitrate is especially dangerous for young children, and may result in potentially fatal blue baby syndrome when concentration in drinking water is > 10 mg/L N-NO3. Nitrate in surface water may also lead to eutrophication. Sources of NO3- contamination include nitrate fertilizers, wastewater treatment plants, individual domestic septic systems, runoff from animal feedlots, and natural soil nitrogen. Nitrate contamination in the Elbe River drainage, covering 148,270 km2 in Germany and the Czech Republic, has been a long-term issue. This study examines the upper one-third of the basin, located almost entirely in the Czech Republic. In the Czech Republic, NO3- concentrations, which in some river reaches exceed the European Union (EU) standard of 50 mg/L, have decreased only slightly or remained constant since monitoring began in the 1960's. At the German border the calculated average 2000-2008 Elbe discharge is 9.4 x 109 m3/yr and annual NO3- loading is 37.4 x 106 kg/yr. The upper Elbe has four major tributaries: the Labe (Elbe), Berounka, Ohře, and Vltava whose percentages of total discharge and NO3- loading are 10.3/10.4, 28.0/33.3, 12.6/8.9, and 49.1/47.4 percent, respectively. Flow and NO3- concentrations for 138 locations were obtained from the Czech Hydrometeorological Institute. δ15N compositions, determined for 57 locations, were used to create a map showing the estimated spatial distribution of nitrate sources within the basin. Nitrate loading for each sample site was calculated using historical concentration and flow data for 2000-2008. Preliminary calculations suggest that ~ 76 percent of the nitrate load is from human/animal waste. Given that large feedlot operations are rare, the major source of nitrate in the region is likely small wastewater treatment plants and rural septic systems.



College and Department

Physical and Mathematical Sciences; Geological Sciences



Date Submitted


Document Type





Nitrate, Nitrogen Isotopes, Czech Republic, Elbe River

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Geology Commons