Water-quality observations of the San Antonio segment of the Edwards aquifer, Texas, with an emphasis on processes influencing nutrient and pesticide geochemistry and factors affecting aquifer vulnerability, 2010–16
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As questions regarding the influence of increasing urbanization on water quality in the Edwards aquifer are raised, a better understanding of the sources, fate, and transport of compounds of concern in the aquifer—in particular, nutrients and pesticides—is needed to improve water management decision-making capabilities. The U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the San Antonio Water System, performed a study from 2010 to 2016 to better understand how water quality changes under a range of hydrologic conditions and in contrasting land-cover settings (rural and urban) in the Edwards aquifer. The study design included continuous hydrologic monitoring, continuous water-quality monitoring, and discrete sample collection for a detailed characterization of water quality at a network of sites throughout the aquifer system. The sites were selected to encompass a “source-to-sink” (that is, from aquifer recharge to aquifer discharge) approach. Network sites were selected to characterize rainfall, recharging surface water, and groundwater; groundwater sites included wells in the unconfined part of the aquifer (unconfined wells) and in the confined part of the aquifer (confined wells) and a major discharging spring. Storm-related samples—including rainfall samples, stormwater-runoff (surface-water) samples, and groundwater samples—were collected to characterize the aquifer response to recharge. Elevated nitrate concentrations relative to national background values and the widespread detection of pesticides indicate that the Edwards aquifer is vulnerable to contamination and that vulnerability is affected by factors such as land cover, aquifer hydrogeology, and changes in hydrologic conditions. Greater vulnerability of groundwater in urban areas relative to rural areas was evident from results for urban groundwater sites, which generally had higher nitrate concentrations, elevated δ15N-nitrate values, a greater diversity of pesticides, and higher pesticide concentrations. The continuum of water quality from unconfined ru