by Kitt Farrell-Poe, Lisa Jones-McLean, Scott McLean, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Cooperative Extension, The University of Arizona
Nitrate (NO3) is a naturally-occurring form of nitrogen found in soil, is very water soluble, and is not retained in the soil. Nitrogen is necessary for all forms of life, and many crops require large quantities to sustain high yields. Nitrate forms when microorganisms break down fertilizers, decaying plants, manures, or other organic materials. Plants take up the nitrate, but sometimes rain or irrigation water can leach them directly into groundwater. Although nitrate occurs naturally in some groundwater, in many cases higher levels are associated with human activities. Nitrate is one of the most common groundwater contaminants in rural areas.
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