Researchers tracking fertilizer runoff in streams

· 2 min read

Researchers tracking fertilizer runoff in streams

Water flowing in a stream

A University of Nebraska–Lincoln project to track fertilizer and urban runoff in streams has received a grant from the Nebraska Environmental Trust.

Jessica Corman, assistant professor in the School of Natural Resources, leads the project, which received $11,202 in its third year of support from NET.


Nebraska is an agricultural state rich with water resources. Unfortunately, fertilizer use to promote agricultural yields has increased nutrients in those waters. Though researchers have recognized and started to address the increased levels of nitrates in water, nitrogen is not the only nutrient in fertilizer. It also contains phosphorus. When nitrogen and phosphorus accumulate in water, they stimulate the growth of algae and cyanobacteria. This growth can turn waters pea-soup green, conditions that are unattractive for recreation, at best, or toxic to animals and humans, at worst.

Understanding how, when and where nutrients enter streams and lakes is critical to successfully managing Nebraska’s surface waters. To meet this challenge, Nebraska researchers plan to build StreamNet, a novel network of high-frequency aquatic nutrient sensors with an easily accessible web application. They will pilot StreamNet in the Scottsbluff/Terrytown/Gering region, where they can place sensors in streams flowing through cropped, ranched and urban areas. The team will work with regional stakeholders to design the web application.

By combining innovative sensing technology with a user-driven web application, researchers expect to provide novel information on nutrient conditions in Nebraska lakes and streams, leading to improved nutrient management techniques and, ultimately, improved water quality in the state.

The project is one of eight Husker projects receiving a total of more than $500,000 from NET this year. StreamNet received $172,794 in funding from NET last year.

The Nebraska Legislature created the NET in 1992. Using revenue from the Nebraska Lottery, the trust has provided more than $350 million in grants to more than 2,400 projects across the state. Anyone — citizens, organizations, communities, farmers and businesses — can apply for funding to protect habitat, improve water quality and establish recycling programs in Nebraska. The NET works to preserve, protect and restore the state’s natural resources for future generations.

Recent News