US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



Published in Journal of Hydrology (2007) 333, 486– 503


Geochemical and isotopic tools were applied at aquifer, transect, and subtransect scales to provide a framework for understanding sources, transport, and fate of dissolved inorganic N in a sandy aquifer near La Pine, Oregon. NO3 is a common contaminant in shallow ground water in this area, whereas high concentrations of NH4– N (up to 39 mg/L) are present in deep ground water. N concentrations, N/Cl ratios, tracer- based apparent ground-water ages, N isotope data, and hydraulic gradients indicate that septic tank effluent is the primary source of NO3. N isotope data, N/Cl and N/C relations, 3H data, and hydraulic considerations point to a natural, sedimentary organic matter source for the high concentrations of NH4, and are inconsistent with an origin as septic tank N. Low recharge rates and flow velocities have largely restricted anthropogenic NO3 to isolated plumes within several meters of the water table. A variety of geochemical and isotopic data indicate that denitrification also affects NO3 gradients in the aquifer. Ground water in the La Pine aquifer evolves from oxic to increasingly reduced conditions. Suboxic conditions are achieved after about 15–30 y of transport below the water table. NO3 is denitrified near the oxic/suboxic boundary. Denitrification in the La Pine aquifer is characterized well at the aquifer scale with a redox boundary approach that inherently captures spatial variability in the distribution of electron donors.