Impact of Fertilizer Application and Agricultural Crops on the Quality of Groundwater in the Alluvial Aquifer, Northern France
In France, the quality of water resources with respect to nitrates deteriorated between the beginning of 1970s and 2000s. A stabilization of the situation and of the improvements has been observed punctually since the 2000s. Despite the application of the Nitrates Directive in France (91/676/CEE), the overall situation remains degraded, with numerous increases in nitrate concentrations in the underground waters. In the North of France, an alluvial groundwater’s nitrate concentration exceeds the drinking water limit fixed at 50 mg/l, in the sectors of Catillon-sur-Sambre and Rejet-de-Beaulieu. In order to quantify and model the impact of agricultural nitrogen on groundwater, an approach based on an integrated model has been established using three specific codes for each lithological horizon: Agriflux (for the root zone), VS2DT (for the unsaturated zone), and ModFlow-MT3D (for the saturated zone). The results illustrate the sensitivity of quality to agricultural crops used. Based on scenarios over 20 years, the predictions show a link between nitrate concentrations in the groundwater and agricultural crops as well as fertilization. Improving quality with a concentration of nitrate less than 50 mg/l requires a reasoned management accompanied by rotations of crops and transformations into grasslands and for sensitive areas the use of the culture producing the least nitrogen flow such as beets. The integrated model constitutes an efficient tool for predicting the evolution of the groundwater quality, especially in sensitive areas like the valleys with a rapid nitrate transfer to the aquifer. The model makes it possible to correctly evaluate the concentrations of nitrates reaching the groundwater with a monitoring of the concentration evolution in each lithological horizon, thus constituting a good tool for the management of agricultural pollution.
KeywordsNitrate Fertilization Agricultural crops Water quality Alluvial aquifer Modeling
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