Water and nitrate exchange between a managed river and a peri-urban floodplain aquifer: quantification and management implications

Macdonald, David M.J.; Dixon, Andy J.; Gooddy, Daren C.. 2018 Water and nitrate exchange between a managed river and a peri-urban floodplain aquifer: quantification and management implications. Ecological Engineering, 123. 226-237.

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The management of rivers for navigation, hydropower and flood risk reduction involves the installation of in‐channel structures. These influence river levels and can affect groundwater flow within hydraulically‐connected riparian floodplain aquifers. A comprehensively monitored, peri‐urban, lowland river floodplain in the southern United Kingdom was used to explore these dependencies and to examine the implications for the flux exchange of water and nitrate between the river and the floodplain alluvial aquifer. The study demonstrated that rivers maintained at high levels by management structures, result in raised groundwater levels in the adjacent aquifer and complex groundwater flow patterns. Engineered river management structures were shown to promote flow from river to aquifer through the river bed but the majority of the associated nitrate was removed in the hyporheic zone. High‐ nitrate groundwater recharge to the alluvial aquifer also occurred through overbank flood flows. Across the floodplain, substantial denitrification occurred due to anaerobic conditions resulting from carbon‐rich sediments and the shallow water table, the latter linked to the river management structures. An upper limit on the total annual mass of nitrate removed from river water entering the floodplain aquifer was estimated for the study site (2.9 x 104 kg), which was three orders of magnitude lower than the estimate of annual in‐channel nitrate flux (1.8 x 107 kg). However, this capacity of lowland floodplains to reduce groundwater nitrate concentrations has local benefits, for example for private and public water supplies sourced from alluvial aquifers. The insights from the study also have relevance for those considering schemes that include the installation, removal or redesign of river management structures, as the resultant change in groundwater levels may have consequences for floodplain meadows and the nutrient status of the aquatic system.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
ISSN: 09258574
Additional Keywords: GroundwaterBGS, Groundwater, Nitrate pollution, Surface water interaction, Groundwater flooding
Date made live: 26 Sep 2018 12:06 +0 (UTC)

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