Nitrates are a form of nitrogen, which is found in several different forms in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. These forms of nitrogen include ammonia (NH3), nitrates (NO3), and nitrites (NO2). Nitrates are essential plant nutrients, but in excess amounts they can cause significant water quality problems. Sources of nitrates include wastewater treatment plants, runoff from fertilized lawns and cropland, failing on-site septic systems, runoff from animal manure storage areas, and industrial discharges that contain corrosion inhibitors.
EPA Nitrate info