Natural Resources, School of


Date of this Version



HYDROLOGICAL PROCESSES, 34(7), 1575-1586 (30 March 2020)

doi: 10.1002/hyp.13683


Copyright © 2019 Elsevier. Used by permission.


The sustainability of groundwater resources for agricultural and domestic use is dependent on both the groundwater recharge rate and groundwater quality. The main purpose of this study was to improve understanding of the timing, or seasonality, of groundwater recharge through the use of stable isotopes. Based on 659 groundwater samples collected from aquifers underlying Natural Resources Districts in Nebraska, the isotopic composition of groundwater (δ 2H, δ 18O) was compared to that of precipitation by (a) mapping the isotopic composition of groundwater samples and (b) mapping a seasonality index for groundwater. Results suggest that for the majority of the state, groundwater recharge has a nongrowing season signature (October – April). However, the isotopic composition of groundwater suggests that in some intensively irrigated areas, human intervention in the water cycle has shifted the recharge signature toward the growing season. In other areas, a different human intervention (diversion of Platte River water for irrigation) has likely produced an apparent but possibly misleading nongrowing season recharge signal because the Platte River water differs isotopically from local precipitation. These results highlight the need for local information even when interpreting isotopic data over larger regions. Understanding the seasonality of recharge can provide insight into the optimal times to apply fertilizer, specifically in highly conductive soils with high leaching potential. In areas with high groundwater nitrate concentrations this information is valuable for protecting the groundwater from further degradation. While previous studies have framed nongrowing season recharge within the context of future climate change, this study also illustrates the importance of understanding how historical human intervention in the water cycle has affected groundwater recharge seasonality and subsequent implications for groundwater recharge and quality.