As many arid and semi-arid regions in the Mediterranean Basin, the Grombalia coastal aquifer (NE Tunisia) is affected by severe groundwater exploitation and contamination. Therefore, quality assessments are becoming increasingly important as the long-term protection of water resources is at stake. Multidisciplinary investigations, like the one presented in this paper, are particularly effective in identifying the different origins of mineralization within an aquifer and investigating the impact of anthropogenic activities on groundwater quality. An integrated assessment, focused on the combined use of geostatistical, geochemical and isotopic (δ18O, δ2H and 3H) tools, was performed in the Grombalia aquifer between February and March 2014. The overall goal was to study the main processes controlling aquifer salinization, with special focus to nitrate contamination. Results indicate a persisting deterioration of water quality over the whole basin except the south-eastern zone juxtaposing the recharge area of the aquifer. Nitrate contents exceed the drinking water standard (50 mg/l) in 70% of groundwater samples, mainly due to the excessive use of fertilizers and urban activities. Stable isotope measurements showed the contribution of modern rainwater to aquifer recharge and proved the presence of evaporation contributing to the salinity increase. Tritium values of groundwater samples suggested two hypotheses: the existence of mixture between old and recent water or/and the existence of two recharge periods of the aquifer, pre- and post-nuclear weapons test. Principal component analysis confirmed the geochemical interpretation, highlighting that water-rock interaction evaporation effect and intensive anthropogenic activities constitute the main processes controlling the regional groundwater mineralization.
Keywords: Geostatistics; Groundwater; Isotopes; Mineralization; Nitrate pollution.