In karst aquifers, contaminated recharge can degrade spring water quality, but quantifying the rapid recharge (quick flow) component of spring flow is challenging because of its temporal variability. Here, we investigate the use of nitrate in a two-endmember mixing model to quantify quick flow in Barton Springs, Austin, Texas. Historical nitrate data from recharging creeks and Barton Springs were evaluated to determine a representative nitrate concentration for the aquifer water endmember (1.5 mg/L) and the quick flow endmember (0.17 mg/L for nonstormflow conditions and 0.25 mg/L for stormflow conditions). Under nonstormflow conditions for 1990 to 2005, model results indicated that quick flow contributed from 0% to 55% of spring flow. The nitrate-based two-endmember model was applied to the response of Barton Springs to a storm and results compared to those produced using the same model with ??18O and specific conductance (SC) as tracers. Additionally, the mixing model was modified to allow endmember quick flow values to vary over time. Of the three tracers, nitrate appears to be the most advantageous because it is conservative and because the difference between the concentrations in the two endmembers is large relative to their variance. The ??18O- based model was very sensitive to variability within the quick flow endmember, and SC was not conservative over the timescale of the storm response. We conclude that a nitrate-based two-endmember mixing model might provide a useful approach for quantifying the temporally variable quick flow component of spring flow in some karst systems. ?? 2008 National Ground Water Association.
Additional publication details
Using nitrate to quantify quick flow in a karst aquifer