The Abbotsford-Sumas Aquifer is a shallow, predominantly unconfined aquifer that spans regions in southwestern British Columbia, Canada and northwestern Washington, USA. The aquifer is prone to nitrate contamination because of extensive regional agricultural practices. A 22-month ground water nitrate assessment was performed in a 10-km2 study area adjacent to the international boundary in northwestern Washington to examine nitrate concentrations and nitrogen isotope ratios to characterize local source contributions from up-gradient sources in Canada. Nitrate concentrations in excess of 10 mg nitrate as nitrogen per liter (mg N L-1) were observed in ground water from most of the 26 domestic wells sampled in the study area, and in a creek that dissects the study area. The nitrate distribution was characteristic of nonpoint agricultural sources and consistent with the historical documentation of agriculturally related nitrate contamination in many parts of the aquifer. Hydrogeologic information, nitrogen isotope values, and statistical analyses indicated a nitrate concentration stratification in the study area. The highest concentrations (>20 mg N L-1) occurred in shallow regions of the aquifer and were linked to local agricultural practices in northwestern Washington. Nitrate concentrations in excess of 10 mg N L-1 deeper in the aquifer (>10 m) were related to agricultural sources in Canada. The identification of two possible sources of ground water nitrate in northwestern Washington adds to the difficulty in assessing and implementing local nutrient management plans for protecting drinking water in the region.
Additional publication details
Nitrate distributions and source identification in the Abbotsford-Sumas Aquifer, northwestern Washington State