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Water 2018, 10(8), 1047; https://doi.org/10.3390/w10081047

Assessing Decadal Trends of a Nitrate-Contaminated Shallow Aquifer in Western Nebraska Using Groundwater Isotopes, Age-Dating, and Monitoring

1
Department of Biological Systems Engineering, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Lincoln, NE 68583, USA
2
Conservation and Survey Division, School of Natural Resources, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Lincoln, NE 68583, USA
3
Nebraska Water Sciences Laboratory, Nebraska Water Center, Lincoln, NE 68583, USA
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Received: 20 June 2018 / Revised: 17 July 2018 / Accepted: 2 August 2018 / Published: 7 August 2018
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Groundwater Contamination and Remediation)
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Abstract

Shallow aquifers are prone to nitrate contamination worldwide. In western Nebraska, high groundwater nitrate concentrations ([NO3]) have resulted in the exploration of new groundwater and nitrogen management regulations in the North Platte Natural Resources District (NPNRD). A small region of NPNRD (“Dutch Flats”) was the focus of intensive groundwater sampling by the United States Geological Survey from 1995 to 1999. Nearly two decades later, notable shifts have occurred in variables related to groundwater recharge and [NO3], including irrigation methods. The objective of this study was to evaluate how changes in these variables, in part due to regulatory changes, have impacted nitrate-contaminated groundwater in the Dutch Flats area. Groundwater samples were collected to assess changes in: (1) recharge rates; (2) biogeochemical processes; and (3) [NO3]. Groundwater age increased in 63% of wells and estimated recharge rates were lower for 88% of wells sampled (n = 8). However, mean age and recharge rate estimated in 2016 (19.3 years; R = 0.35 m/year) did not differ significantly from mean values determined in 1998 (15.6 years; R = 0.50 m/year). δ15N-NO3 (n = 14) and dissolved oxygen data indicate no major changes in biogeochemical processes. Available long-term data suggest a downward trend in normalized [NO3] from 1998 to 2016, and lower [NO3] was observed in 60% of wells sampled in both years (n = 87), but median values were not significantly different. Collectively, results suggest the groundwater system is responding to environmental variables to a degree that is detectable (e.g., trends in [NO3]), although more time and/or substantial changes may be required before it is possible to detect significantly different mean recharge. View Full-Text
Keywords: groundwater nitrate; groundwater age; groundwater transit time; groundwater recharge rates; non-point source pollution; groundwater monitoring; isotopes; 3H/3He; surface irrigation; center pivot irrigation groundwater nitrate; groundwater age; groundwater transit time; groundwater recharge rates; non-point source pollution; groundwater monitoring; isotopes; 3H/3He; surface irrigation; center pivot irrigation
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Wells, M.J.; Gilmore, T.E.; Mittelstet, A.R.; Snow, D.; Sibray, S.S. Assessing Decadal Trends of a Nitrate-Contaminated Shallow Aquifer in Western Nebraska Using Groundwater Isotopes, Age-Dating, and Monitoring. Water 2018, 10, 1047.

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