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Median nitrate concentrations in groundwater in the New Jersey Highlands Region estimated using regression models and land-surface characteristics

August 12, 2015

Nitrate-concentration data are used in conjunction with land-use and land-cover data to estimate median nitrate concentrations in groundwater underlying the New Jersey (NJ) Highlands Region. Sources of data on nitrate in 19,670 groundwater samples are from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) National Water Information System (NWIS) and the NJ Private Well Testing Act (PWTA).

In a study conducted by the USGS, in cooperation with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, logistic regression was used to relate measured nitrate concentrations to five explanatory variables (percent urban and agricultural land use, septic-system density, total length of streams, and number of known contaminated sites) quantified in 610-meter-square grid cells. A method for calculating the median concentrations of nitrate from a series of logistic regression models was developed. Two calibration and two validation procedures showed that the logistic-regression-based method can estimate groundwater-nitrate concentrations in the Highlands Region accurately to within 0.1 milligram per liter as nitrogen (mg/L as N). Limitations of the logistic-regression-based method include the inability to select a logistic model with exactly 0.5 probability of exceeding the threshold value and lack of an algorithm to directly calculate the median value. Quantile regression was evaluated as a suitable alternative and was slightly less accurate than the logistic-regression method in estimating median groundwater nitrate concentrations in the Highlands Region.

Multiple-linear regression with log-transformed nitrate-concentration data and the same five explanatory values was less accurate than either logistic or quantile regression in estimating median nitrate concentrations. On the basis of 4,516 2000 x 2000 foot grid cells that contain wells with data stored in NWIS and the PWTA database, the estimated median nitrate concentration for the entire Highlands Region is about 1.25 mg/L as N, and estimated median concentrations range from about 1.05 to 1.78 mg/L as N among 11 smaller administratively defined areas within the Highlands Region that vary in percentages of urban land use, agricultural land use, and septic-system density.

The Kaplan-Meier method of estimating summary statistics from left-censored data was applied in order to include nondetects (left-censored data) in median nitrate-concentration calculations. Median concentrations also were determined using three alternative methods of handling nondetects. Treatment of the 23 percent of samples that were nondetects had little effect on estimated median nitrate concentrations because method detection limits were mostly less than median values.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2015
Title Median nitrate concentrations in groundwater in the New Jersey Highlands Region estimated using regression models and land-surface characteristics
DOI 10.3133/sir20155075
Authors Ronald J. Baker, Mary M. Chepiga, Stephen J. Cauller
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2015-5075
Index ID sir20155075
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization New Jersey Water Science Center

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