Keywords: deep wells, water quality, groundwater pollution, Southern Chile
Effect of soil-use on deep groundwater quality in Southern Chile
This study evaluated the effects of farming activities on the quality of deep well water in Southern Chile. In this area, the use of fertilisers is becoming more widespread and the accumulation and poor management of cattle slurry and silage sub-products increases the risk of contamination. The study was carried out in the province of Osorno, where rainfall occurs all year round (maximum in winter); total annual rainfall exceeds 1300 mm. The soil is of volcanic origin and this province includes areas used for intensive farming and cattle raising activities, residential and recreational purposes and extensive farming practices. Water quality was analysed over a 15 month period in deep wells in either intensive farming areas and residential/recreational zones or extensive farming land. Although levels of nitrate were higher in deep wells located in intensive farming areas, levels of phosphor and pH were lower than those of wells located in extensive farming areas. Nevertheless, the range of nutrient concentration (nitrite, iron, manganese and phosphor) revealed significant statistical differences between both types of farming land; nitrite dominated in well samples located in intensive farming areas, while iron and manganese dominated in extensive farming areas. Seasonal differences were registered in temperature, nitrate, total coliforms and Escherichia coli. Maximum levels of nitrate and bacteria were reached in spring and autumn, respectively. No significant relationships were established between nutrient and bacterial levels with meteorological factors such as temperature, rainfall and number of days when rainfall occurred. Variations in nutrients and bacteria, both temporal and between locations (spatial), are associated to soil use and proximity to septic well wastewaters. Iron and manganese concentrations exceeded permitted drinking-water standards in a considerable percentage of samples, which may be due to soil composition. Bacterial pollution occurred infrequently in autumn and winter. The quality of deep-well waters in Southern Chile is generally good. Nevertheless, evidence indicates that intensive farming practices, slurry, silage and poor management of rural residential areas, constitute a significant potential risk.