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Title: California GAMA Program: Sources and Transport of Nitrate in Groundwater in the Livermore Valley Basin, California

Abstract

A critical component of the State Water Resource Control Board's Groundwater Ambient Monitoring and Assessment (GAMA) Program is to assess the major threats to groundwater resources that supply drinking water to Californians (Belitz et al., 2004). Nitrate concentrations approaching and greater than the maximum contaminant level (MCL) are impairing the viability of many groundwater basins as drinking water sources Source attribution and nitrate fate and transport are therefore the focus of special studies under the GAMA program. This report presents results of a study of nitrate contamination in the aquifer beneath the City of Livermore, where high nitrate levels affect both public supply and private domestic wells. Nitrate isotope data are effective in determining contaminant sources, especially when combined with other isotopic tracers such as stable isotopes of water and tritium-helium ages to give insight into the routes and timing of nitrate inputs to the flow system. This combination of techniques is demonstrated in Livermore, where it is determined that low nitrate reclaimed wastewater predominates in the northwest, while two flowpaths with distinct nitrate sources originate in the southeast. Along the eastern flowpath, {delta}{sup 15}N values greater than 10{per_thousand} indicate that animal waste is the primary source. Diminishing concentrations overmore » time suggest that contamination results from historical land use practices. The other flowpath begins in an area where rapid recharge, primarily of low nitrate imported water (identified by stable isotopes of water and a tritium-helium residence time of less than 1 year), mobilizes a significant local nitrate source, bringing groundwater concentrations above the MCL of 45 mg NO{sub 3} L{sup -1}. In this area, artificial recharge of imported water via local arroyos induces flux of the contaminant to the regional aquifer. The low {delta}{sup 15}N value (3.1{per_thousand}) in this location implicates synthetic fertilizer. Geochemical modeling supports the hypothesis of separate sources, one including organic carbon, as from animal waste, and one not. In addition to these anthropogenic sources, natural nitrate background levels between 15 and 20 mg NO{sub 3} L{sup -1} are found in deep wells with residence times greater than 50 years.« less

Authors:
; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ;
Publication Date:
Research Org.:
Lawrence Livermore National Lab. (LLNL), Livermore, CA (United States)
Sponsoring Org.:
USDOE
OSTI Identifier:
888584
Report Number(s):
UCRL-TR-217189
TRN: US0604305
DOE Contract Number:
W-7405-ENG-48
Resource Type:
Technical Report
Country of Publication:
United States
Language:
English
Subject:
07 ISOTOPES AND RADIATION SOURCES; 58 GEOSCIENCES; 54 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES; ANIMALS; AQUIFERS; CARBON; CONTAMINATION; DRINKING WATER; HYPOTHESIS; LAND USE; MONITORING; NITRATES; STABLE ISOTOPES; TRANSPORT; VIABILITY; WASTES; WATER RESOURCES

Citation Formats

Beller, H, Eaton, G F, Ekwurzel, B E, Esser, B K, Hu, Q, Hudson, G B, Leif, R, McNab, W, Moody-Bartel, C, Moore, K, and Moran, J E. California GAMA Program: Sources and Transport of Nitrate in Groundwater in the Livermore Valley Basin, California. United States: N. p., 2005. Web. doi:10.2172/888584.
Beller, H, Eaton, G F, Ekwurzel, B E, Esser, B K, Hu, Q, Hudson, G B, Leif, R, McNab, W, Moody-Bartel, C, Moore, K, & Moran, J E. California GAMA Program: Sources and Transport of Nitrate in Groundwater in the Livermore Valley Basin, California. United States. doi:10.2172/888584.
Beller, H, Eaton, G F, Ekwurzel, B E, Esser, B K, Hu, Q, Hudson, G B, Leif, R, McNab, W, Moody-Bartel, C, Moore, K, and Moran, J E. Fri . "California GAMA Program: Sources and Transport of Nitrate in Groundwater in the Livermore Valley Basin, California". United States. doi:10.2172/888584. https://www.osti.gov/servlets/purl/888584.
@article{osti_888584,
title = {California GAMA Program: Sources and Transport of Nitrate in Groundwater in the Livermore Valley Basin, California},
author = {Beller, H and Eaton, G F and Ekwurzel, B E and Esser, B K and Hu, Q and Hudson, G B and Leif, R and McNab, W and Moody-Bartel, C and Moore, K and Moran, J E},
abstractNote = {A critical component of the State Water Resource Control Board's Groundwater Ambient Monitoring and Assessment (GAMA) Program is to assess the major threats to groundwater resources that supply drinking water to Californians (Belitz et al., 2004). Nitrate concentrations approaching and greater than the maximum contaminant level (MCL) are impairing the viability of many groundwater basins as drinking water sources Source attribution and nitrate fate and transport are therefore the focus of special studies under the GAMA program. This report presents results of a study of nitrate contamination in the aquifer beneath the City of Livermore, where high nitrate levels affect both public supply and private domestic wells. Nitrate isotope data are effective in determining contaminant sources, especially when combined with other isotopic tracers such as stable isotopes of water and tritium-helium ages to give insight into the routes and timing of nitrate inputs to the flow system. This combination of techniques is demonstrated in Livermore, where it is determined that low nitrate reclaimed wastewater predominates in the northwest, while two flowpaths with distinct nitrate sources originate in the southeast. Along the eastern flowpath, {delta}{sup 15}N values greater than 10{per_thousand} indicate that animal waste is the primary source. Diminishing concentrations over time suggest that contamination results from historical land use practices. The other flowpath begins in an area where rapid recharge, primarily of low nitrate imported water (identified by stable isotopes of water and a tritium-helium residence time of less than 1 year), mobilizes a significant local nitrate source, bringing groundwater concentrations above the MCL of 45 mg NO{sub 3} L{sup -1}. In this area, artificial recharge of imported water via local arroyos induces flux of the contaminant to the regional aquifer. The low {delta}{sup 15}N value (3.1{per_thousand}) in this location implicates synthetic fertilizer. Geochemical modeling supports the hypothesis of separate sources, one including organic carbon, as from animal waste, and one not. In addition to these anthropogenic sources, natural nitrate background levels between 15 and 20 mg NO{sub 3} L{sup -1} are found in deep wells with residence times greater than 50 years.},
doi = {10.2172/888584},
journal = {},
number = ,
volume = ,
place = {United States},
year = {Fri Nov 18 00:00:00 EST 2005},
month = {Fri Nov 18 00:00:00 EST 2005}
}

Technical Report:

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  • A critical component of the State Water Resource Control Board's Groundwater Ambient Monitoring and Assessment (GAMA) Program is to assess the major threats to groundwater resources that supply drinking water to Californians (Belitz et al., 2004). Nitrate is the most pervasive and intractable contaminant in California groundwater and is the focus of special studies under the GAMA program. This report presents results of a study of nitrate contamination in the aquifer beneath the cities of Morgan Hill and Gilroy, CA, in the Llagas Subbasin of Santa Clara County, where high nitrate levels affect several hundred private domestic wells. The mainmore » objectives of the study are: (1) to identify the main source(s) of nitrate that issue a flux to the shallow regional aquifer (2) to determine whether denitrification plays a role in the fate of nitrate in the subbasin and (3) to assess the impact that a nitrate management plan implemented by the local water agency has had on the flux of nitrate to the regional aquifer. Analyses of 56 well water samples for major anions and cations, nitrogen and oxygen isotopes of nitrate, dissolved excess nitrogen, tritium and groundwater age, and trace organic compounds, show that synthetic fertilizer is the most likely source of nitrate in highly contaminated wells, and that denitrification is not a significant process in the fate of nitrate in the subbasin except in the area of recycled water application. In addition to identifying contaminant sources, these methods offer a deeper understanding of how the severity and extent of contamination are affected by hydrogeology and groundwater management practices. In the Llagas subbasin, the nitrate problem is amplified in the shallow aquifer because it is highly vulnerable with high vertical recharge rates and rapid lateral transport, but the deeper aquifers are relatively more protected by laterally extensive aquitards. Artificial recharge delivers low-nitrate water and provides a means of long-term remediation. Examination of nitrate concentration in relation to groundwater age indicates that the nitrate management plan has not yet resulted in a decrease in the flux of nitrate to the shallow aquifer in the areas tested.« less
  • In response to concerns expressed by the California Legislature and the citizenry of the State of California, the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB), implemented a program to assess groundwater quality, and provide a predictive capability for identifying areas that are vulnerable to contamination. The program was initiated in response to concern over public supply well closures due to contamination by chemicals such as methyl tert butyl ether (MTBE) from gasoline, and solvents from industrial operations. As a result of this increased awareness regarding groundwater quality, the Supplemental Report of the 1999 Budget Act mandated the SWRCB to develop amore » comprehensive ambient groundwater monitoring plan, and led to the initiation of the Groundwater Ambient Monitoring and Assessment (GAMA) Program. The primary objective of the California Aquifer Susceptibility (CAS) project (under the GAMA Program) is to assess water quality and to predict the relative susceptibility to contamination of groundwater resources throughout the state of California. Under the GAMA program, scientists from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) collaborate with the SWRCB, the U.S. Geological Survey, the California Department of Health Services (DHS), and the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) to implement this groundwater assessment program. In 2003, LLNL carried out this vulnerability study in the Sacramento Valley and Volcanic Provinces. The goal of the study is to provide a probabilistic assessment of the relative vulnerability of groundwater used for the public water supply to contamination from surface sources. This assessment of relative contamination vulnerability is made based on the results of two types of analyses that are not routinely carried out at public water supply wells: ultra low-level measurement of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and groundwater age dating (using the tritium-helium-3 method). In addition, stable oxygen isotope measurements help determine the recharge water source location. Interpreted together, and in the context of existing water quality and hydrogeologic data, these observable parameters help define the flow field of a groundwater basin, and indicate the degree of vertical communication between near-surface sources (or potential sources) of contamination, and deeper groundwater pumped at high capacity production wells.« less
  • This study investigates nitrate contamination of a deep municipal drinking water production well in Ripon, CA to demonstrate the utility of natural groundwater tracers in constraining the sources and transport of nitrate to deep aquifers in the Central Valley. The goal of the study was to investigate the origin (source) of elevated nitrate and the potential for the deep aquifer to attenuate anthropogenic nitrate. The site is ideal for such an investigation. The production well is screened from 165-325 feet below ground surface and a number of nearby shallow and deep monitoring wells were available for sampling. Furthermore, potential sourcesmore » of nitrate contamination to the well had been identified, including a fertilizer supply plant located approximately 1000 feet to the east and local almond groves. A variety of natural isotopic and dissolved gas tracers including {sup 3}H-{sup 3}He groundwater age and the isotopic composition of nitrate are applied to identify nitrate sources and to characterize nitrate transport. An advanced method for sampling production wells is employed to help identify contaminant contributions from specific screen intervals. Nitrate transport: Groundwater nitrate at this field site is not being actively denitrified. Groundwater parameters indicate oxic conditions, the dissolved gas data shows no evidence for excess nitrogen as the result of denitrification, and nitrate-N and -O isotope compositions do not display patterns typical of denitrification. Contaminant nitrate source: The ambient nitrate concentration in shallow groundwater at the Ripon site ({approx}12 mg/L as nitrate) is typical of shallow groundwaters affected by recharge from agricultural and urban areas. Nitrate concentrations in Ripon City Well 12 (50-58 mg/L as nitrate) are significantly higher than these ambient concentrations, indicating an additional source of anthropogenic nitrate is affecting groundwater in the capture zone of this municipal drinking water well. This study provides two new pieces of evidence that the Ripon Farm Services Plant is the source of elevated nitrate in Ripon City Well 12. (1) Chemical mass balance calculations using nitrate concentration, nitrate isotopic composition, and initial tritium activity all indicate that that the source water for elevated nitrate to Ripon City Well 12 is a very small component of the water produced by City Well 12 and thus must have extremely high nitrate concentration. The high source water nitrate concentration ({approx}1500 mg/L as nitrate) required by these mass balance calculations precludes common sources of nitrate such as irrigated agriculture, dairy wastewater, and septic discharge. Shallow groundwater under the Ripon Farm Services RFS plant does contain extremely high concentrations of nitrate (>1700 mg/L as nitrate). (2) Nitrogen and oxygen isotope compositions of nitrate indicate that the additional anthropogenic nitrate source to Ripon City Well 12 is significantly enriched in {delta}{sup 18}O-NO{sub 3}, an isotopic signature consistent with synthetic nitrate fertilizer, and not with human or animal wastewater discharge (i.e. dairy operations, septic system discharge, or municipal wastewater discharge), or with organic fertilizer. Monitoring wells on and near the RFS plant also have high {delta}{sup 18}O-NO{sub 3}, and the plant has handled and stored synthetic nitrate fertilizer that will have this isotopic signature. The results described here highlight the complexity of attributing nitrate found in long screened, high capacity wells to specific sources. In this case, the presence of a very high concentration source near the well site combined with sampling using multiple isotopic tracer techniques and specialized depth-specific techniques allowed fingerprinting of the source in the mixed-age samples drawn from the production well.« less
  • The Groundwater Ambient Monitoring and Assessment (GAMA) Program is a comprehensive groundwater quality monitoring program managed by the California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB). Under the GAMA program, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory carries out special studies that address groundwater quality issues of statewide relevance. The study described here is one in a series of special studies that address the fate and transport of nitrate in basins where groundwater is the main source of water for both irrigation and public drinking water supply.