, Volume 71, Issue 4, pp 1791-1807

Human alteration of groundwater–surface water interactions (Sagittario River, Central Italy): implication for flow regime, contaminant fate and invertebrate response

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Abstract

Many rivers worldwide are undergoing severe man-induced alterations which are reflected also in changes of the degree of connectivity between surface waters and groundwater. Pollution, irrigation withdrawal, alteration of freshwater flows, road construction, surface water diversion, soil erosion in agriculture, deforestation and dam building have led to some irreversible species losses and severe changes in community composition of freshwater ecosystems. Taking into account the impact of damming and flow diversion on natural river discharge, the present study is aimed at (i) evaluating the effects of anthropogenic changes on groundwater/surface water interactions; (ii) analyzing the fate of nitrogenous pollutants at the floodplain scale; and (iii) describing the overall response of invertebrate assemblages to such changes. Hydrogeological, geochemical and isotopic data revealed short- and long-term changes in hydrology, allowing the assessment of the hydrogeological setting and the evaluation of potential contamination by nitrogen compounds. Water isotopes allowed distinguishing a shallow aquifer locally fed by zenithal recharge and river losses, and a deeper aquifer/aquitard system fed by surrounding carbonate aquifers. This system was found to retain ammonium and, through the shallow aquifer, release it in surface running waters via the hyporheic zone of the riverbed. All these factors influence river ecosystem health. As many environmental drivers entered in action offering a multiple-component artificial environment, a clear relationship between river flow alteration and benthic and hyporheic invertebrate diversity was not found, being species response driven by the combination of three main stressors: ammonium pollution, man-induced changes in river morphology and altered discharge regime.