Field Scale Groundwater Nitrate Loading Model for the Central Valley, California, 1945-Current
University of California, Davis
Video Not Available
Picture Not Available
Anthropogenic groundwater nitrate contamination in the Central Valley aquifer system, California, is widespread, with over 40% of domestic wells in some counties exceeding drinking water standards. Sources of groundwater nitrate include leaky municipal wastewater systems, municipal wastewater recharge, onsite wastewater treatment (septic) systems, atmospheric nitrogen deposition, animal farming, application of organic waste materials (sludge, biosolids, animal manure) to agricultural lands, and synthetic fertilizer. At the site or field scale, nitrogen inputs to the landscape are balanced by plant nitrogen uptake and harvest, atmospheric nitrogen losses, surface runoff of nitrogen, soil nitrogen storage changes, and leaching to groundwater. Irrigated agriculture is a dominant player in the Central Valley nitrogen cycle: The largest nitrogen fluxes are synthetic fertilizer and animal manure applications to cropland, crop nitrogen uptake, and groundwater nitrogen losses. We construct a historic field/parcel scale groundwater nitrogen loading model distinguishing urban and residential areas, individual animal farming areas, leaky wastewater lagoons, and approximately 50 different categories of agricultural crops. For non-agricultural landuses, groundwater nitrate loading is based on reported leaching values, animal population, and human population. For cropland, groundwater nitrate loading is computed from mass balance, taking into account diverse and historically changing management practices between different crops. Groundwater nitrate loading is estimated for 1945 to current. Significant increases in groundwater nitrate loading are associated with the expansion of synthetic fertilizer use in the 1950s to 1970s. Nitrate loading from synthetic fertilizer use has stagnated over the past 20 years due to improvements in nutrient use efficiency. However, an unbroken 60 year exponential increase in dairy production until the late 2000s has significantly impacted the nitrogen imbalance and is a significant threat to future groundwater quality in the Central Valley system. The model provides the basis for evaluating future planning scenarios to develop and assess long-term solutions for sustainable groundwater quality management.