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Assessment of nonpoint-source contamination of the High Plains Aquifer in south-central Kansas, 1987

Open-File Report 91-238

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Abstract

Ground-water quality was assessed in a 5,000-square-mile area of the High Plains aquifer in south-central Kansas that is susceptible to nonpoint-source contamination from agricultural and petroleum-production activities. Of particular interest were agricultural chemicals, mainly atrazine, and oil-derived hydrocarbons, which might occur in association with brines that formerly were disposed into unlined ponds.


Random sampling of ground water was done within a framework of discrete land-use areas (irrigated cropland, petroleum-production land containing former brine-disposal ponds, and undeveloped rangeland) of 3 to 10 square miles. Although true baseline water-quality conditions probably are rare, these baseline conditions are represented most closely by ground water beneath the areas of undeveloped rangeland. The sampling design enabled statistical hypothesis testing of the effects of land use, unsaturated-zone lithology, and type of well sampled. Statistical testing was based on nonparametric procedures.


Results indicate that regional ground-water quality has been affected by prevailing land-use activities, as shown mainly by increased concentrations of several inorganic constituents. Ground water beneath irrigated cropland is characterized by significantly (95-percent confidence level) larger concentrations of hardness, alkalinity, calcium, magnesium, potassium, fluoride, and nitrite plus nitrate than is water beneath undeveloped rangeland. Nondegraded pesticides generally were not detected in the aquifer, probably because of degradation and sorption. Atrazine is present locally in ground water in small concentrations.


Ground water beneath petroleum-production land is characterized by significantly (95-percent confidence level) larger concentrations of hardness, alkalinity, dissolved solids, sodium, and chloride than is water beneath undeveloped rangeland. Nonpoint-source ground-water contamination by oil-derived hydrocarbons was not discernible. The occurrences of trace-organic compounds were similar between petroleum-production land and undeveloped rangeland, which indicates a natural origin for these compounds.

The unsaturated zone in the study area is lithologically heterogeneous and contains substantial amounts of clay that inhibit the downward movement of water and solutes. Within the aquifer, the rate of regional lateral flow and solute transport is sufficiently slow so that the ground-water quality reflects overlying land use in discrete areas of several square miles. Regional flow, however, is sufficiently rapid so that the type of well sampled is not important in regional characterization of water quality beneath irrigated cropland; the seasonal pumping of irrigation wells does not appear to divert regional flow enough to cause substantial local anomalies of more mineralized ground water.

Study Area

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Report
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Title:
Assessment of nonpoint-source contamination of the High Plains Aquifer in south-central Kansas, 1987
Series title:
Open-File Report
Series number:
91-238
Year Published:
1992
Language:
English
Publisher:
U.S. Geological Survey
Contributing office(s):
Kansas Water Science Center
Description:
vi, 61 p.
Country:
United States
State:
Kansas