Under the auspices of the UN Millennium Development Goals, access to safe drinking water in the developing world, including the Ethiopian highlands, has improved greatly. However, in many cases, it is not known how safe the water is. With the intensification of agriculture and increasing applications of fertilizers, high levels of nitrate are a concern. The objective of this study is to assess the nitrate levels in drinking water supply systems. To assess nitrate levels, we sampled 213 water supply points in a 4880 km2
area in the northwest Ethiopian highlands. The results show that the average concentration was below the World Health Organization (WHO) health standard of 10 mg N-NO3
/L. The average concentration in wells was 3.3 mg N-NO3
/L and in springs was 1.8 mg N-NO3
/L. Only in three wells, that were in agricultural cropped areas, was the WHO standard exceeded. Wells in the agricultural fields had an average nitrate concentration of 3.6 mg N-NO3
/L, which was almost twice that on grazing land and four times that in upland wells. Spatially, the groundwater nitrate concentrations were greater in the moderately sloped parts of the study area where agriculture was intensive and denitrification limited. Thus, although current nitrate levels are safe, in the future, the nitrate concentration could exceed the WHO health standard when fertilizer use increases.
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited