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The effect of changes in land use on nitrate concentration in water supply wells in southern Chester County, Pennsylvania

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An analysis of private potable water well data was conducted for seven single family residential developments in southern Chester County, Pennsylvania. Background data were available for 165 wells within the communities when the wells were first drilled in the 1980s and early 1990s. Sampling of 75 wells within these same communities was performed in 2006 to determine whether conversion of the land to residential housing along with the use of conventional on-lot septic systems had resulted in elevated concentration of nitrate-nitrogen in the drinking water aquifer. The data indicate that prior land use influenced the occurrence of nitrate-nitrogen in the drinking water aquifer. The median nitrate-nitrogen concentration for the 165 wells in the background dataset was 2.9 mg/L. One hundred-seven of those wells were drilled on land previously used for active agricultural purposes. The median nitrate concentration in these wells was 3.8 mg/L. Of 48 wells drilled on forested land, the median nitrate concentration was 1.1 mg/L, approximately 3.5 times lower than those drilled on active agricultural land. The median nitrate concentration in the 2006 sampling dataset was 3.6 mg/L, an increase of 0.7 mg/L. The data indicate that conversion of the land has not resulted in contamination of the drinking water aquifer with respect to nitrate-nitrogen. Likewise, the data suggest that the conversion has not resulted in significant improvements to overall water quality.

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The collection of the background data and completion of the 2006 sampling and analysis were made possible by the funding from the Home Builders Association of Chester and Delaware Counties.

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Correspondence to Paul White.

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White, P., Ruble, C.L. & Lane, M.E. The effect of changes in land use on nitrate concentration in water supply wells in southern Chester County, Pennsylvania. Environ Monit Assess 185, 643–651 (2013).

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