Groundwater nitrate and chloride trends in an agriculture-intensive area in southern Alberta, Canada

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Courtesy of IWA Publishing

The potential effect of manure management from livestock production on groundwater quality is an issue of concern. Groundwater sampling from a regional transect in southern Alberta, Canada, was conducted to determine changes in groundwater quality with time. The study area has extensive irrigation and a high density of confined feeding operations. Nitrate-N (NO3-N) and chloride (Cl) concentration data from 23 groundwater-study wells were evaluated from 1994 to 2014. Twelve of these wells were water-table wells and 11 were piezometers. Of the 23 wells, 14 had significant temporal trends (increasing or decreasing) for NO3-N and/or Cl concentrations. On a regional basis, NO3-N increased slightly with time while Cl changed very little, suggesting that the effects of agricultural activities on regional groundwater quality have generally remained constant. However, concentration changes occurred on a smaller scale. Shallow groundwater in coarse-textured soils is at a relatively higher risk of contamination than groundwater in fine-textured soils, especially in locations where intensive agricultural activities occur.

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