Weekly variations of discharge and groundwater quality caused by intermittent water supply in an urbanized karst catchment


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Journal of Hydrology

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Leaky sewerage and water distribution networks are an enormous problem throughout the world, specifically in developing countries and regions with water scarcity. Especially in many arid and semi-arid regions, intermittent water supply (IWS) is common practice to cope with water shortage. This study investigates the combined influence of urban activities, IWS and water losses on groundwater quality and discusses the implications for water management. In the city of As-Salt (Jordan), local water supply is mostly based on groundwater from the karst aquifer that underlies the city. Water is delivered to different supply zones for 24, 48 or 60 h each week with drinking water losses of around 50–60%. Fecal contamination in groundwater, mostly originating from the likewise leaky sewer system is a severe challenge for the local water supplier. In order to improve understanding of the local water cycle and contamination dynamics in the aquifer beneath the city, a down gradient spring and an observation well were chosen to identify contaminant occurrence and loads. Nitrate, Escherichia coli, spring discharge and the well water level were monitored for 2 years. Autocorrelation analyses of time series recorded during the dry season revealed weekly periodicity of spring discharge (45 ± 3.9 L s−1) and NO3-N concentrations (11.4 ± 0.8 mg L−1) along with weekly varying E. coli levels partly exceeding 2.420 MPN 100 mL−1. Cross-correlation analyses demonstrate a significant and inverse correlation of nitrate and discharge variations which points to a periodic dilution of contaminated groundwater by freshwater from the leaking IWS being the principal cause of the observed fluctuations. Contaminant inputs from leaking sewers appear to be rather constant. The results reveal the distinct impact of leaking clean IWS on the local groundwater and subsequently on the local water supply and therefore demonstrate the need for action regarding the mitigation of groundwater contamination and reduction of network losses from sewer leakage. Furthermore, these investigations contribute to an improved understanding of urban water cycle systems in the Middle-East which may help water managers in the region to conserve precious resources.

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