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Potential impacts on groundwater quality in a fractured sedimentary bedrock aquifer from biosolids application on agricultural fields

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Title: Potential impacts on groundwater quality in a fractured sedimentary bedrock aquifer from biosolids application on agricultural fields
Author: Klabunde, Carolina
Department: School of Engineering
Program: Engineering
Advisor: Levison, Jana
Abstract: Application of biosolids on agricultural lands is a common practice and useful disposal alternative for recycling organic matter and nutrients into soils, as a replacement for synthetic fertilizers. There is a need to better understand potential environmental implications from the application of these soil amendments to ensure that they can be applied without negative impacts on the underlying aquifer. In particular, the relationship between biosolids application rates and resulting concentrations of pharmaceuticals and nitrate in aquifers requires further investigation. The main research objectives were to identify potential impacts of biosolids application on groundwater quality in a shallow sedimentary fractured bedrock aquifer, looking at both temporal and spatial variability, and to determine whether tile drainage systems affect the leaching of those contaminants to the aquifer. The depth-discrete monitoring approach captured distinct insights on water quality and contaminant behaviour, and facilitated the examination of vertical variability of emerging substances of concern (ESOC) and nitrate concentrations within the borehole. In addition, a bromide tracer experiment was used to aid in the characterization of the groundwater flow and solute travel times from the surface to the aquifer. Results suggested the system is more sensitive to surface-applied compounds in summer and spring, where warmer temperatures seemed to facilitate N mineralization, yet biosolids application may not pose a risk to groundwater quality on the short term, for this hydrogeological setting. Predominance of lateral movement observed at the site affects the fate of contaminants in the subsurface. Additionally, tile systems might be intercepting contaminant pathways, influencing the transport and fate of the leached hydrophilic compounds from the surface. The results are relevant for the implementation of local water protection policies through the development of standards or guidelines to avoid harm from biosolids application, and should be considered by specialists when recommending ideal agronomic loading rates of biosolids for agricultural soil amendments.
Date: 2016-06
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