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In 1999 and 2000, 30 water-quality monitoring wells were installed in the central High Plains aquifer to evaluate the quality of recently recharged ground water in areas of irrigated agriculture and to identify the factors affecting ground-water quality. Wells were installed adjacent to irrigated agricultural fields with 10- or 20-foot screened intervals placed near the water table. Each well was sampled once for about 100 waterquality constituents associated with agricultural practices. Water samples from 70 percent of the wells (21 of 30 sites) contained nitrate concentrations larger than expected background concentrations (about 3 mg/L as N) and detectable pesticides. Atrazine or its metabolite, deethylatrazine, were detected with greater frequency than other pesticides and were present in all 21 samples where pesticides were detected. The 21 samples with detectable pesticides also contained tritium concentrations large enough to indicate that at least some part of the water sample had been recharged within about the last 50 years. These 21 ground-water samples are considered to show water-quality effects related to irrigated agriculture. The remaining 9 groundwater samples contained no pesticides, small tritium concentrations, and nitrate concentrations less than 3.45 milligrams per liter as nitrogen. These samples are considered unaffected by the irrigated agricultural land-use setting. Nitrogen isotope ratios indicate that commercial fertilizer was the dominant source of nitrate in 13 of the 21 samples affected by irrigated agriculture. Nitrogen isotope ratios for 4 of these 21 samples were indicative of an animal waste source. Dissolved-solids concentrations were larger in samples affected by irrigated agriculture, with large sulfate concentrations having strong correlation with large dissolved solids concentrations in these samples. A strong statistical correlation is shown between samples affected by irrigated agriculture and sites with large rates of pesticide and nitrogen applications and shallow depths to ground water.
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USGS Numbered Series
Ground-water quality beneath irrigated agriculture in the central High Plains aquifer, 1999-2000