A survey of the chemical quality of ground water in the unconsolidated alluvial aquifer beneath a major urban center (Denver, Colorado, USA) was performed in 1993 with the objective of characterizing the quality of shallow ground-water in the urban area and relating water quality to land use. Thirty randomly selected alluvial wells were each sampled once for a broad range of dissolved constituents. The urban land use at each well site was sub- classified into one of three land-use settings: residential, commercial, and industrial. Shallow ground-water quality was highly variable in the urban area and the variability could be related to these land-use setting classifications. Sulfate (SO4) was the predominant anion in most samples from the residential and commercial land-use settings, whereas bicarbonate (HCO3) was the predominant anion in samples from the industrial land-use setting, indicating a possible shift in redox conditions associated with land use. Only three of 30 samples had nitrate concentrations that exceeded the US national drinking-water standard of 10 mg l-1 as nitrogen, indicating that nitrate contamination of shallow ground water may not be a serious problem in this urban area. However, the highest median nitrate concentration (4.2 mg l-1) was in samples from the residential setting, where fertilizer application is assumed to be most intense. Twenty-seven of 30 samples had detectable pesticides and nine of 82 analyzed pesticide compounds were detected at low concentrations, indicating that pesticides are widely distributed in shallow ground water in this urban area. Although the highest median total pesticide concentration (0.17 ??g l-1) was in the commercial setting, the herbicides prometon and atrazine were found in each land-use setting. Similarly, 25 of 29 samples analyzed had detectable volatile organic compounds (VOCs) indicating these compounds are also widely distributed in this urban area. The total VOC concentrations in sampled wells ranged from nondetectable to 23 442 ??g l-1. Widespread detections and occasionally high concentrations point to VOCs as the major anthropogenic ground-water impact in this urban environment. Generally, the highest VOC concentrations occurred in samples from the industrial setting. The most frequently detected VOC was the gasoline additive methyl tertbutyl ether (MTBE, in 23 of 29 wells). Results from this study indicate that the quality of shallow ground water in major urban areas can be related to land-use settings. Moreover, some VOCs and pesticides may be widely distributed at low concentrations in shallow ground water throughout major urban areas. As a result, the differentiation between point and non-point sources for these compounds in urban areas may be difficult.
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Shallow ground-water quality beneath a major urban center: Denver, Colorado, USA