The Suwannee River flows through an area of north-central Florida where ground water has elevated nitrate concentrations. A study was conducted to determine how springs and other ground-water inflow affect the quantity and quality of water in the Suwannee River. The study was done on a 33-mile (mi) reach of the lower Suwannee River from just downstream of Dowling Park, Fla., to Branford, Fla. Water samples for nitrate concentrations (dissolved nitrite plus nitrate as nitrogen) and discharge data were collected at 11 springs and 3 river sites during the 3-day period in July 1995 during base flow in the river.
In the study reach, all inflow to the river is derived from ground water. Measured springs and other ground-water inflow, such as unmeasured springs and upward diffuse leakage through the riverbed, increased the river discharge 47 percent over the 33-mi reach. The 11 measured springs contributed 41 percent of the increased discharge and other ground-water inflow contributed the remaining 59 percent. River nitrate loads increased downstream from 2,300 to 6,000 kilograms per day (kg/d), an increase of 160 percent in the 33-mi study reach. Measured springs contributed 46 percent of this increase and other ground-water inflow contributed the remaining 54 percent.
The study reach was divided at Luraville, Fla., into an 11-mi upper segment and a 22-mi lower segment to determine whether the ground-water inflows and nitrate concentrations were uniform throughout the entire study reach (fig. 1). The two segments were dissimilar. The amount of water added to the river by measured springs more than tripled from the upper to the lower segment. Even though the median nitrate concentration for the three springs in the upper segment (1.7 milligrams per liter (mg/L)) was similar to the median for the eight springs in the lower segment (1.8 mg/L), nitrate concentrations in the river almost doubled from 0.46 to 0.83 mg/L in the lower segment. Only 11 percent of the increase in nitrate load for the study reach occurred in the upper segment; the remaining 89 percent occurred in the lower segment. Measured springs were the major source of nitrate load in the upper reach and other ground-water inflow was the major source in the lower segment.
Differences in nitrate loads between the upper and lower river segments are probably controlled by such factors as differences in the magnitude of the spring discharges, the size and location of spring basins, and the hydrologic characteristics of ground water in the study area.