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Water-quality assessment of the Delmarva Peninsula, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia; effects of agricultural activities on, and distribution of, nitrate and other inorganic constituents in the surficial aquifer

Open-File Report 93-40

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Abstract

Agricultural applications of inorganic fertilizers and manure have changed the natural chemical com- position of water in the surficial aquifer through- out the Delmarva Peninsula. Nitrate, derived from nitrification of ammonia in inorganic fertilizers and manure, is the dominant anion in agricultural areas. Concentrations of nitrate in 185 water samples collected in agricultural areas ranged from 0.4 to 48 mg/L as nitrogen, with a median concen- tration of 8.2 mg/L as nitrogen. Nitrate concen- trations exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's maximum contaminant level for drinking water of 10 mg/L as nitrogen in about 33% of the 185 water samples. Groundwater affected by agricultural activities contains significantly higher concentrations of dissolved constituents than does natural groundwater. Concentrations of calcium and magnesium are higher because of liming of soils, and concentrations of potassium and chloride are higher because of applications of potash, a supple- ment to the nitrogen-based fertilizers. Alkalinity concentrations commonly are decreased because the bicarbonate ion is consumed in buffering reactions with acid that is produced during nitrification. Effects of agricultural activities on groundwater quality are not limited to the near-surface parts of the aquifer underlying farm fields. Elevated concentrations are common in aerobic water at or near the base of the aquifer, 80 to 100 ft below land surface. The median concentration of nitrate in water beneath agricultural areas collected from 24 wells deeper than 80 ft below land surface was 8.5 mg/L as nitrogen, and concentrations in 9 of these water samples exceeded the maximum contaminant level. Regional variations in concentrations of nitrate and other agriculture related constituents in the surficial aquifer in the Delmarva Peninsula depend on a number of factors that include geomorphology, geology, soils, land use, and groundwater-flow patterns. (USGS)

Additional Publication Details

Publication type:
Report
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Title:
Water-quality assessment of the Delmarva Peninsula, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia; effects of agricultural activities on, and distribution of, nitrate and other inorganic constituents in the surficial aquifer
Series title:
Open-File Report
Series number:
93-40
Edition:
-
Year Published:
1993
Language:
ENGLISH
Publisher:
U.S. Geological Survey ;Books and Open-file Reports Section [distributor],
Description:
95 p. :ill., maps ;28 cm. +1 computer disk (3 1/2 in.)