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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Agricultural managed aquifer recharge — water quality factors to consider

  • Author(s): Waterhouse, Hannah;
  • Bachand, Sandra;
  • Mountjoy, Daniel;
  • Choperena, Joseph;
  • Bachand, Phillip A. M.;
  • Dahlke, Halen E;
  • Horwath, William R
  • et al.

The resilience and productivity of California's agriculture is threatened by groundwater overdraft, reduction in aquifer water quality, increased land subsidence damage to infrastructure and an irreversible reduction in groundwater storage capacity. Intentionally flooding agricultural fields during winter — a practice referred to as agricultural managed aquifer recharge (AgMAR) — can help counteract overdraft. However, the potential for AgMAR to exacerbate nitrate/salt leaching and contamination of at-risk aquifers remains a critical concern. To quantify the risk of groundwater contamination with AgMAR, we took 30-foot-long soil cores in 12 almond orchards, processing tomato fields and wine grape vineyards on low- and high-permeability soils, measured nitrate and total dissolved solids concentrations and calculated stored nitrate-N. Wine grape vineyards on permeable soils had the least nitrate leaching risk observed. However, almond orchards and tomato fields could be leveraged for AgMAR if dedicated recharge sites were established and clean surface water used for recharge. Historical land use, current nitrogen management and soil permeability class are the main factors to consider before implementing AgMAR.

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