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Denitrification in a Deep Basalt Aquifer: Implications for Aquifer Storage and Recovery

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Abstract

Aquifer storage and recovery (ASR) can provide a means of storing water for irrigation in agricultural areas where water availability is limited. A concern, however, is that the injected water may lead to a degradation of groundwater quality. In many agricultural areas, nitrate is a limiting factor. In the Umatilla Basin in north central Oregon, shallow alluvial groundwater with elevated nitrate-nitrogen of <3 mg/L to >9 mg/L is injected into the Columbia River Basalt Group (CRBG), a transmissive confined aquifer(s) with low natural recharge rates. Once recovery of the injected water begins, however, NO3-N in the recovered water decreases quickly to <3 mg/L (Eaton et al. 2009), suggesting that NO3-N may not persist within the CRBG during ASR storage. In contrast to NO3-N, other constituents in the recovered water show little variation, inconsistent with migration or simple mixing as an explanation of the NO3-N decrease. Nitrogen isotopic ratios (δ15N) increase markedly, ranging from +3.5 to > +50, and correlate inversely with NO3-N concentrations. This variation occurs in <3 weeks and recovery of <10% of the originally injected volume. TOC is low in the basalt aquifer, averaging <1.5 mg/L, but high in the injected source water, averaging >3.0 mg/L. Similar to nitrate concentrations, TOC drops in the recovered water, consistent with this component contributing to the denitrification of nitrate during storage.

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