Analysis of vulnerability factors that control nitrate occurrence in natural springs (Osona Region, NE Spain)

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Nitrate pollution is one of the main concerns of groundwater management in most of the world's agricultural areas. In the Osona region of NE Spain, high concentrations of nitrates have been reported in wells. This study uses the occurrence of this pollutant in natural springs as an indicator of the sub-surface dynamics of the water cycle and shows how groundwater quality is affected by crop fertilization, as an approach to determine the aquifer vulnerability.Nitrate concentration and other hydrochemical parameters based on a biannual database are reported for approximately 80 springs for the period 2004-2009. The background concentration of nitrate is first determined to distinguish polluted areas from natural nitrate occurrence. A statistical treatment using logistic regression and ANOVA is then performed to identify the significance of the effect of vulnerability factors such as the geological setting of the springs, land use in recharge areas, sampling periods, and chemical parameters like pH and EC, on groundwater nitrate pollution.The results of the analysis identify a threshold value of 7-8mg NO3-/L for nitrate pollution in this area. Logistic regression and ANOVA results show that an increase in EC or a decrease in pH values is linked to the possibility of higher nitrate concentrations in springs. These analyses also show that nitrate pollution is more dependent on land use than the geological setting of springs or sampling periods. Indeed, the specific geological and soil features of the uppermost layers in their recharge areas do not contribute to the buffering of nitrate impacts on aquifers as measured in natural springs. Land use, and particularly fertilization practices, are major factors in groundwater vulnerability ​
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