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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Deep vadose zone hydrology demonstrates fate of nitrate in eastern San Joaquin Valley


The sustainability of water resources is key to continued prosperity in the San Joaquin Valley and California. The vadose zone is an often-ignored layer of wet but unsaturated sediments between the land surface and the water table. It plays an important role in groundwater recharge and in controlling the flux and attenuation of nitrate and other potential groundwater contaminants. In a former orchard at the UC Kearney Research and Extension Center, we investigated the processes that control the movement of water, nitrate and other contaminants through the deep vadose zone. These processes were found to be controlled by the alluvial sedimentary geology of the vadose zone, which is highly heterogeneous. This heterogeneity should be considered when interpreting soil and deep vadose zone monitoring data and assessing of the leaching potential of agricultural chemicals. The transport of contaminants through the vadose zone may be significantly faster than previously assumed, while denitrification is likely limited or insignificant in the oxic, alluvial vadose zone of the eastern San Joaquin Valley.

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