Abstract

Across the Midwestern United States, Public Water Systems (PWSs) struggle with high levels of nitrate in source waters from intense agricultural activity. Leveraging a sensor network deployed across Iowa surface waters, we evaluated the potential of the Hach Nitratax SC Plus, which uses UV-light absorption to quantify dissolved nitrate-nitrite (NOx-N) down to 0.1 mg-N L−1, for real-time monitoring of NOx-N in drinking water. For six different PWSs over multiple years, we compare NOx-N levels in source waters (surface and groundwater under surface influence) to those measured via traditional methods (e.g., ion chromatography (IC)) for US EPA compliance monitoring. At one large PWS, we also evaluated sensor performance when applied to near-finished drinking water (filter effluent). We find good agreement between traditional analytical methods and in situ sensors. For example, for 771 filter effluent samples from 2006–2011, IC analysis averaged NOx-N of 5.8 mg L−1 while corresponding sensor measurements averaged 5.7 mg L−1 with a mean absolute error of 0.23 (5.6%). We identify several benefits of using real-time sensors in PWSs, including improved frequency to capture elevated NOx-N levels and as decision-support tools for NOx-N management.

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