Recently recharged water (defined here as <60 years old) is generally the most vulnerable part of a groundwater resource to nonpoint-source nitrate contamination. Understanding at the appropriate scale the interactions of natural and anthropogenic controlling factors that influence nitrate occurrence in recently recharged groundwater is critical to support best management and policy decisions that are often made at the aquifer to subaquifer scale. New logistic regression models were developed using data from the U.S. Geological Survey's National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) program and National Water Information System for 17 principal aquifers of the U.S. to identify important source, transport, and attenuation factors that control nonpoint source nitrate concentrations greater than relative background levels in recently recharged groundwater and were used to predict the probability of detecting elevated nitrate in areas beyond the sampling network. Results indicate that dissolved oxygen, crops and irrigated cropland, fertilizer application, seasonally high water table, and soil properties that affect infiltration and denitrification are among the most important factors in predicting elevated nitrate concentrations. Important differences in controlling factors and spatial predictions were identified in the principal aquifer and national-scale models and support the conclusion that similar spatial scales are needed between informed groundwater management and model development.
Additional publication details
Vulnerability of recently recharged groundwater in principal aquifers of the United States to nitrate contamination