Freshwater Vulnerability to Nitrate Contamination as an Indicator of Sustainability and Resilience within the Water-Energy-Food Nexus of the California Coastal Basins
Tuesday, 16 December 2014
The California Coastal Basin (CCB) aquifers are representative of many coastal aquifers that are vulnerable to nonpoint-source (NPS) contamination from intense agriculture and increased urbanization combined with historical groundwater use and overdraft conditions. Overdraft has led to seawater intrusion along parts of the central California coast, which negatively affects food production because of high salinity concentrations in groundwater used for irrigation. Recent drought conditions in California have led to an increased need to further understand freshwater sustainability and resilience within the water-energy-food (WEF) nexus. Assessing the vulnerability of NPS contamination in groundwater provides valuable information for optimal resource management and policy. Vulnerability models of nitrate contamination in the CCB were developed as one of many indicators to evaluate risk in terms of susceptibility of the physical environment at local and regional scales. Multivariate logistic regression models were developed to predict the probability of NPS nitrate contamination in recently recharged groundwater and to identify significant explanatory variables as controlling factors in the CCB. Different factors were found to be significant in the sub-regions of the CCB and issues of scale are important. For example, land use is scale dependent because of the difference in land management practices between the CCB sub-regions. However, dissolved oxygen concentrations in groundwater, farm fertilizer, and soil thickness are scale invariant because they are significant both regionally and sub-regionally. Thus, the vulnerability models for the CCB show that different explanatory variables are scale invariant. This finding has important implications for accurately quantifying linkages between vulnerability and consequences within the WEF nexus, including inherent tradeoffs in water and food production in California and associated impacts on the local and regional economy, governance, environment, and society at multiple scales.