USE OF ISOTOPES, AGE-DATING, AND NUMERICAL SIMULATION TO EVALUATE SOURCE HISTORIES AND TRANSPORT OF NO3 TO PUBLIC SUPPLY WELLS IN PRINCIPAL AQUIFERS OF THE UNITED STATES
Peter Mcmahon1, Johnkarl Böhlke2, Craig Brown3, Karen Burow4, Christy Crandall5, Matthew Landon6
1U.S. Geological Survey,
2U.S. Geological Survey,
3U.S. Geological Survey,
4U.S. Geological Survey,
5U.S. Geological Survey,
6U.S. Geological Survey,
is one of the most common contaminants in drinking water produced by
public-supply wells in the
Source Histories of NO3
Isotopes of NO3 (N,O) and N2, concentrations of NO3 and dissolved gases (N2, Ar, Ne), and age-dating (CFCs, SF6, 3H-3He) were used to correct for denitrification effects and to reconstruct records of NO3 concentration and δ15N values in recharge to representative public supply wells in the Central Valley aquifer (CVA) in California, High Plains aquifer (HPA) in Nebraska, Glacial Deposit aquifer (GDA) in Connecticut, and the Floridan aquifer (FA) in Florida. Nitrate concentration and δ15N values in recharge to the CVA and HPA exhibited large increases during the last 50 years, coincident with the growth in N applications in these agriculture-dominated areas. Nitrate concentration and δ15N values in recharge to the GDA and FA were relatively stable during the last 15 to 30 years in these areas dominated by residential, commercial, and forested land uses. Median NO3 concentrations in recharge were larger in the CVA and HPA (237 to 254 μM) than in the GDA and FA (<35 to 103 μM). The large increase in NO3 concentrations in recharge with time in the CVA and HPA indicates that NO3 concentrations in public-supply wells screened in those aquifers will increase in the future as progressively more recent recharge is transported to the wells unless recharge conditions change or processes in the aquifer attenuate NO3 concentrations.
Transport of NO3
Nitrate transport in the four principal aquifers is affected, to varying degrees, by numerous factors that include source history, denitrification, well construction, and well operation. For example, denitrification in fine-grained sediments overlying producing zones in the HPA and FA effectively removes NO3 from ground water, as indicated by decreasing NO3 concentrations, fractionation of isotopes in NO3 and N2 (Fig. 2), and accumulation of excess N2 in ground water along flow paths to the wells. Denitrification is of lesser importance in the CVA and GDA. The effectiveness of denitrifying zones in the HPA and FA is reduced in places by well screens that cross denitrifying zones and by well pumping that increases ground-water velocities, thus reducing reaction times. Although well characteristics such as these can result in increased NO3 concentrations in produced water, they also can be actively managed to potentially reduce NO3 concentrations in produced water.
combined use of isotopes, age-dating, and numerical simulation provides new
insights into the factors controlling NO3 transport to
representative public-supply wells in principal aquifers of the
Figure 1. Map showing the location of selected principal
aquifers in the
Figure 2. Nitrogen isotope composition of residual NO3
and excess N2 as a function of denitrification reaction progress in
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U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (2001): Factoids: Drinking water and ground-water statistics for 2000. EPA 816-K-01-004, 12 p.