Environmental Earth Sciences

, Volume 70, Issue 4, pp 1911–1926 | Cite as

Estimation of nitrate load from septic systems to surface water bodies using an ArcGIS-based software

  • Liying Wang
  • Ming YeEmail author
  • J. Fernando Rios
  • Raoul Fernandes
  • Paul Z. Lee
  • Richard W. Hicks
Original Article


Nitrate, as a commonly identified groundwater and surface water pollutant, poses serious threats to human health and the environment. One important source of nitrate in the environment is due to wastewater treatment using Onsite Sewage Treatment and Disposal Systems (OSTDS) (a.k.a., septic systems). To facilitate water resources and environmental management, an ArcGIS-Based Nitrate Load Estimation Toolkit (ArcNLET) is developed to simulate nitrate transport and estimate nitrate load from septic systems and collocated fertilizer applications in groundwater to surface water bodies. It is a screening tool based on a simplified conceptual model of groundwater flow and nitrate transport. It is used in this study to estimate nitrate load from thousands of septic systems to surface water bodies in two neighborhoods located in Jacksonville, FL, USA, where nitrate due to septic systems is believed to be one of the reasons of nutrient enrichment and an isotope study indicates that denitrification is significant. A global sensitivity analysis is performed to identify critical parameters for model calibration, and the most critical parameter is the first-order decay coefficient used to simulate the denitrification process. Hydraulic conductivities at different soil zones have different levels of influence on simulated nitrate concentrations at different locations. By manually adjusting model parameters, simulated shapes of water table and nitrate concentration agree reasonably with average field observations, suggesting that ArcNLET is able to simulate spatial variability of field observations. Estimated nitrate loads exhibit spatial variability, which is useful to facilitate decisions on the conversion of OSTDS into sewers in certain areas for reducing nitrate load from septic systems to surface water bodies.


GIS-based screening model Nitrate transport Denitrification Nitrate loads Sensitivity analysis Morris method 



This work is supported by contract WM956 with the Florida Department Environmental Protection (FDEP). The ArcNLET package (program, example files, and manuals) is available for free download at Help from Yu-Feng Lin, Hal Davis, and Tingting Zhao is greatly appreciated. We are also grateful to inspiring discussion with Eberhard Roeder. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Liying Wang
    • 1
  • Ming Ye
    • 1
    Email author
  • J. Fernando Rios
    • 2
  • Raoul Fernandes
    • 3
  • Paul Z. Lee
    • 4
  • Richard W. Hicks
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Scientific ComputingFlorida State UniversityTallahasseeUSA
  2. 2.Department of GeographyState University of New York at BuffaloBuffaloUSA
  3. 3.Department of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric ScienceFlorida State UniversityTallahasseeUSA
  4. 4.Florida Department of Environmental ProtectionTallahasseeUSA

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