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Effect of Groundwater Age and Recharge Source on Nitrate Concentrations in Domestic Wells in the San Joaquin Valley


Nitrate is one of the most abundant contaminants in groundwater globally, in the United States, and in California (CA). We studied well construction information, water chemistry, stable isotopes, and noble gases to understand how groundwater travel time and recharge source and mechanism control nitrate concentrations in domestic wells in the San Joaquin Valley (SJV), CA, a large semiarid, irrigated agricultural region. Using nonparametric statistics, we find a decreasing trend in nitrates with groundwater travel time and well depth. Samples collected from wells that are closer to rivers and that show indications of river water recharge, either low recharge temperature or low δ18O signature, have lower concentrations of nitrates than samples with isotopic signatures indicating mixed source or local precipitation recharge. The curbing effect of river water recharge on nitrate concentrations in domestic wells is similar for direct river recharge and water applied as irrigation. This suggests that irrigation with river water also has a diluting effect that reduces the concentration of nitrate found in groundwater. This conclusion supports the idea that flood-managed aquifer recharge may be considered for remediation of groundwater nitrate when designing replenishment of aquifers.

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