In response to concerns about the steady increase in nitrate concentrations over the past several decades in many of Florida's first magnitude spring waters (discharge ???2.8 m3/s), multiple isotopic and other chemical tracers were analyzed in water samples from 12 large springs to assess sources and timescales of nitrate contamination. Nitrate-N concentrations in spring waters ranged from 0.50 to 4.2 mg/L, and ??15N values of nitrate in spring waters ranged from 2.6 to 7.9 per mil. Most ??15N values were below 6 per mil indicating that inorganic fertilizers were the dominant source of nitrogen in these waters. Apparent ages of groundwater discharging from springs ranged from 5 to about 35 years, based on multi-tracer analyses (CFC-12, CFC-113, SF6, 3H/3He) and a piston flow assumption; however, apparent tracer ages generally were not concordant. The most reliable spring-water ages appear to be based on tritium and 3He data, because concentrations of CFCs and SF6 in several spring waters were much higher than would be expected from equilibration with modern atmospheric concentrations. Data for all tracers were most consistent with output curves for exponential and binary mixing models that represent mixtures of water in the Upper Floridan aquifer recharged since the early 1960s. Given that groundwater transit times are on the order of decades and are related to the prolonged input of nitrogen from multiple sources to the aquifer, nitrate could persist in groundwater that flows toward springs for several decades due to slow transport of solutes through the aquifer matrix.
Additional publication details
Sources of nitrate contamination and age of water in large karstic springs of Florida