Effect of diffuse recharge and wastewater on groundwater contamination in Douala, Cameroon

Abstract

High water demand for domestic use in Douala with over 3 million inhabitants is met mainly by shallow groundwater. Field measurements and water sampling in January 2015 were carried out to examine the major controls on the groundwater composition and spatial view of ions in the water, timing of recharge and link between the recharge process and quality of the water. Fifty-two water samples were analysed for major ions and stable hydrogen and oxygen isotopes. Low pH values (3.61–6.92) in the groundwater indicated an acidic aquifer; thus, prone to acidification. The dominant water type was Na–Cl. Nitrate, which exceeded the WHO guide value of 50 mg/l in 22% of the groundwater, poses a health problem. Mass ratios of Cl/Br in the water ranged from 54 to 3249 and scattered mostly along the mixing lines between dilute waters, septic-tank effluent and domestic sewage. A majority of the samples, especially the high NO3 shallow wells, clustered around the septic-tank effluent-end-member indicating high contamination by seepage from pit latrines; hence, vulnerable to pollution. Stable isotopes in the groundwater indicated its meteoric origin and rapid infiltration after rainfall. The δ18O values showed narrow ranges and overlaps in rivers, springs, open wells and boreholes. These observations depict hydraulic connectivity, good water mixing and a homogeneous aquifer system mainly receiving local direct uniform areal recharge from rainfall. The rapid and diffused recharge favours the leaching of effluent from the pit toilets into the aquifer; hence, the high NO3 and Cl in shallow wells. Silicate weathering, ion exchange and leaching of waste from pit toilets are the dominant controls on the groundwater chemistry. Drilling of deep boreholes is highly recommended for good-quality water supply. However, due the hydraulic connection to the shallow aquifer, geochemical modelling of future effects of such an exploitation of the deeper aquifer should support groundwater management and be ahead of the field actions.

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Acknowledgements

The corresponding author is an International Research Fellow of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS). This work was fully supported by JSPS KAKENHI Grant Number 26·04331. We thank Dr Jonathan N. Hogarh of Nkwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology for his constructive comments. The corresponding author dedicates the paper to Professor Samuel N.Y. Fanso Free, a mentor, who passed to the Lord on March 10, 2016. The manuscript was significantly improved by review comments from two anonymous reviewers.

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Correspondence to Mengnjo Jude Wirmvem.

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Wirmvem, M.J., Ohba, T., Nche, L.A. et al. Effect of diffuse recharge and wastewater on groundwater contamination in Douala, Cameroon. Environ Earth Sci 76, 354 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12665-017-6692-8

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Keywords

  • Groundwater chemistry
  • Groundwater contamination
  • Environmental isotopes
  • Groundwater recharge
  • Cl/Br ratio
  • Douala-Cameroon