Environmental isotopic and hydrochemical characteristics of groundwater from the Sandspruit Catchment, Berg River Basin, South Africa

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Courtesy of IWA Publishing

The Sandspruit catchment (a tributary of the Berg River) represents a drainage system, whereby saline groundwater with total dissolved solids (TDS) up to 10,870 mg/l, and electrical conductivity (EC) up to 2,140 mS/m has been documented. The catchment belongs to the winter rainfall region with precipitation seldom exceeding 400 mm/yr, as such, groundwater recharge occurs predominantly from May to August. Recharge estimation using the catchment water-balance method, chloride mass balance method, and qualified guesses produced recharge rates between 8 and 70 mm/yr. To understand the origin, occurrence and dynamics of the saline groundwater, a coupled analysis of major ion hydrochemistry and environmental isotopes (δ18O, δ2H and 3H) data supported by conventional hydrogeological information has been undertaken. These spatial and multi-temporal hydrochemical and environmental isotope data provided insight into the origin, mechanisms and spatial evolution of the groundwater salinity. These data also illustrate that the saline groundwater within the catchment can be attributed to the combined effects of evaporation, salt dissolution, and groundwater mixing. The salinity of the groundwater tends to vary seasonally and evolves in the direction of groundwater flow. The stable isotope signatures further indicate two possible mechanisms of recharge; namely, (1) a slow diffuse type modern recharge through a relatively low permeability material as explained by heavy isotope signal and (2) a relatively quick recharge prior to evaporation from a distant high altitude source as explained by the relatively depleted isotopic signal and sub-modern to old tritium values.

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