The Black Warrior River aquifer is a major source of public water supply in the Mobile River Basin. The aquifer outcrop trends northwest - southeast across Mississippi and Alabama. A relatively thin shallow aquifer overlies and recharges the Black Warrior River aquifer in the flood plains and terraces of the Alabama, Coosa, Black Warrior, and Tallapoosa Rivers. Ground water in the shallow aquifer and the Black Warrior River aquifer is susceptible to contamination due to the effects of land use. Ground-water quality in the shallow aquifer and the shallow subcrop of the Black Warrior River aquifer, underlying an agricultural and an urban area, is described and compared.
The agricultural and urban areas are located in central Alabama in Autauga, Elmore, Lowndes, Macon, Montgomery, and Tuscaloosa Counties. Row cropping in the Mobile River Basin is concentrated within the flood plains of major rivers and their tributaries, and has been practiced in some of the fields for nearly 100 years. Major crops are cotton, corn, and beans. Crop rotation and no-till planting are practiced, and a variety of crops are grown on about one-third of the farms. Row cropping is interspersed with pasture and forested areas. In 1997, the average farm size in the agricultural area ranged from 196 to 524 acres. The urban area is located in eastern Montgomery, Alabama, where residential and commercial development overlies the shallow aquifer and subcrop of the Black Warrior River aquifer. Development of the urban area began about 1965 and continued in some areas through 1995. The average home is built on a 1/8 - to 1/4 - acre lot.
Ground-water samples were collected from 29 wells in the agricultural area, 30 wells in the urban area, and a reference well located in a predominately forested area. The median depth to the screens of the agricultural and urban wells was 22.5 and 29 feet, respectively. Ground-water samples were analyzed for physical properties, major ions, nutrients, and pesticides. Samples from 8 of the agricultural wells and all 30 urban wells were age dated using analyses of chlorofluorocarbon, sulfur hexafluoride, and dissolved gases. Ground water sampled from the agricultural wells ranged in age from about 14 to 34 years, with a median age of about 18.5 years. Ground water sampled from the urban wells ranged in age from about 1 to 45 years, with a median age of about 12 years. The ages estimated for the ground water are consistent with the geology and hydrology of the study area and the design of the wells.
All of the agricultural and urban wells sampled for this study produce water from the shallow aquifer that overlies and recharges the Black Warrior River aquifer, or from the uppermost unit of the Black Warrior River aquifer. The wells are located in the same physiographic setting, have similar depths, and the water collected from the wells had a similar range in age. Statistically significant differences in ground-water quality beneath the agricultural and urban areas can reasonably be attributed to the effects of land use.
Ground water from the agricultural wells typically had acidic pH values and low specific conductance and alkalinity values. The water contained few dissolved solids, and typically had small concentrations of ions. Some of the agricultural ground-water contained concentrations of ammonia, nitrite plus nitrate, phosphorus, orthophosphate, and dissolved organic carbon in concentrations that exceeded those typically found in ground water. Pesticides were detected in ground water collected from 25 of the 29 agricultural wells. Nineteen different pesticide compounds were detected a total of 83 times. Herbicides were the most frequently detected class of pesticides. The greatest concentration of any pesticide was an estimated value of 1.4 microgram per liter of fluometuron.
The Wilcoxan rank sum test was used to determine statistically significant differences in water quality between the agricultural and urba