Date of Award

2013

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science in Environmental Sciences

Department

Natural Resources Science

First Advisor

Anne Veeger

Abstract

Groundwater is the sole source of drinking water in the coastal community on the Quonochontaug headland in Charlestown, Rhode Island. Management and preservation of this water resource and the surrounding coastal ponds is of increasing importance as population increases and seasonal homes are converted to year-round residences. One of the main issues facing this groundwater system, addressed in this study, is the pollution of groundwater and the coastal salt ponds from anthropogenic sources of nitrate. Water samples were collected from 47 private wells, including shallow wells constructed in the stratified glacial material and deep wells drilled into the underlying fractured granitic bedrock. The sampling locations allow for analysis of spatial and depth related trends in water chemistry. This area has many seasonal residents, resulting in greater stress on the groundwater system in the summer. In order to evaluate temporal trends, samples were collected in three rounds; early summer, late summer, and fall. Nitrate concentrations were above background levels (0-1 mg/L NO3-N) in 92% of samples collected, and 27% of samples reached 5 mg/L, indicating anthropogenic impact from septic systems, cesspools and fertilizers. The overall distribution of nitrate remained consistent throughout the three sampling rounds, indicating no temporal trend. Data analysis revealed a strong association between housing density and observed nitrate concentrations. This positive correlation was used to develop a GIS-based model for predicting nitrate concentrations throughout the salt pond region using current housing densities. The resulting model provides a management tool that can be used for targeting areas of concern and to better constrain the magnitude of groundwater-derived nitrogen loading to the nearby salt ponds.

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