Predicting the Probability of Elevated Nitrate Concentrations in the Puget Sound Basin: Implications for Aquifer Susceptibility and Vulnerability

Anthony J. Tesoriero  and Frank D. Vossa

a U.S. Geological Survey, Water Resources Division, 1201 Pacific Avenue, Suite 600, Tacoma, Washington 98402


The occurrence and distribution of elevated nitrate concentrations (>/=3 mg/L) in ground water in the Puget Sound Basin, Washington, were determined by examining existing data from more than 3,000 wells. Models that estimate the probability that a well has an elevated nitrate concentration were constructed by relating the occurrence of elevated nitrate concentrations to both natural and anthropogenic variables using logistic regression. The variables that best explain the occurrence of elevated nitrate concentrations were well depth, surficial geology, and the percentage of urban and agricultural land within a radius of 3.2 kilometers of the well. From these relations, logistic regression models were developed to assess aquifer susceptibility (relative ease with which contaminants will reach aquifer) and ground-water vulnerability (relative ease with which contaminants will reach aquifer for a given set of land-use practices). Both models performed well at predicting the probability of elevated nitrate concentrations in an independent data set. This approach to assessing aquifer susceptibility and ground-water vulnerability has the advantages of having both model variables and coefficient values determined on the basis of existing water quality information and does not depend on the assignment of variables and weighting factors based on qualitative criteria.

Ground Water, Vol. 35, No. 6, Pages 1029-1039, November-December 1997

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