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Abstract

The leakage of pollutants from agricultural lands to aquifers has increased greatly, driven by increasing fertilizer and pesticide use. Because this increase is recent, ground water pollutant concentrations, loads, and exports may also be increasing as pollutants penetrate more deeply into aquifers. We established in an aquifer profile a ground water recharge and pollutant leakage chronology in an agricultural landscape where 30 m of till blankets a 57-m thick sandstone aquifer. Pollutant concentrations increased from older ground water (1963) at the aquifer base to younger ground water (1985) at its top, a signal of increasing pollutant leakage. Nitrate-N increased from 0.9 to 13.2 mg/L, implying that leakage increased from 1.9 to 16.5 kg/ha/year. Nitrate load and export could increase from 130% to 230% before reaching a steady state in 20 to 40 years. Chloride increases were similar. Pesticide residues alachlor ethane sulfonic acid (ESA), metolachlor ESA, and atrazine residues partially penetrated the aquifer profile. Their concentration-age-date patterns exhibited an initial increase and then a leveling corresponding to the timing of product adoption and leveling of demand. Unlike NO3, projecting pesticide residue steady states is complicated by the phasing in and out of pesticide products over time; for example, neither alachlor nor atrazine is currently used in the area, and newer products, which have not had time to transit to the aquifer, have been adopted. The circumstances that resulted in the lack of a pollutant steady state are not rare; thus, the lack of steady states in agricultural region aquifers may not be uncommon.