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Keywords:

  • land use change;
  • water quality;
  • public supply wells

[1] Understanding how changes in land use affect water quality of public supply wells (PSW) is important because of the strong influence of land use on water quality, the rapid pace at which changes in land use are occurring in some parts of the world, and the large contribution of groundwater to the global water supply. In this study, groundwater flow models incorporating particle tracking and reaction were used to analyze the response of water quality in PSW to land use change in four communities: Modesto, California (Central Valley aquifer); York, Nebraska (High Plains aquifer); Woodbury, Connecticut (Glacial aquifer); and Tampa, Florida (Floridan aquifer). The water quality response to measured and hypothetical land use change was dependent on age distributions of water captured by the wells and on the temporal and spatial variability of land use in the area contributing recharge to the wells. Age distributions of water captured by the PSW spanned about 20 years at Woodbury and >1,000 years at Modesto and York, and the amount of water <50 years old captured by the PSW ranged from 30% at York to 100% at Woodbury. Short-circuit pathways in some PSW contributing areas, such as long irrigation well screens that crossed multiple geologic layers (York) and karst conduits (Tampa), affected age distributions by allowing relatively rapid movement of young water to those well screens. The spatial component of land use change was important because the complex distribution of particle travel times within the contributing areas strongly influenced contaminant arrival times and degradation reaction progress. Results from this study show that timescales for change in the quality of water from PSW could be on the order of years to centuries for land use changes that occur over days to decades, which could have implications for source water protection strategies that rely on land use change to achieve water quality objectives.