The influence of stormwater infiltration on downslope groundwater chemistry

Environ Geochem Health. 2023 Aug 30. doi: 10.1007/s10653-023-01732-3. Online ahead of print.


Stormwater infiltration basins have been used extensively around the world to restore urban hydrology towards more natural flow and water quality regimes. There is, however, significant uncertainty in the fate of infiltrated water and accompanying contaminants that depends on multiple factors including media characteristics, interactions with downslope vegetation, legacy contaminants, and presence of underground infrastructure. Understanding the influence of such factors is thus central to the design and siting of infiltration basins. An extensive field program was established to collect monthly data on ground water quality, including nutrients and major ion concentrations, in a bore network downstream of a stormwater infiltration basin in Victoria, Australia. The groundwater samples were analysed for temperature, pH, EC, turbidity, major ions (Na+, Ca2+, K+, Mg2+, Cl-, SO42-, NO3-, CO32-, HCO3-), NOx and heavy metals. The collected data were used to understand the origin and fate of water and solutes in the subsurface and their interactions with the soil matrix. The results revealed that Ca-HCO3, Na-Cl water types predominate in the study area, grouped in 3 clusters; shallow fresh groundwater in the vicinity of the basin (near basin), deep saline groundwater further downstream of the basin (near-stream) and a mid-section where rock-water interaction (Na-HCO3 water) through cation exchange control the chemistry of groundwater. The results also suggest that as the water moves downstream of the basin, it experiences significant evapotranspiration and concentration due to the presence of deep-rooted vegetation. The results suggest that while infiltration basins can remove infiltrated contaminants, the infiltrated stormwater can mobilise legacy contaminants such as nitrate. Overall, the efficacy of infiltration basins in urban regions depends substantially on the downstream vegetation, urban underground infrastructure and the presence of legacy contaminants in the soils. These all need to be considered in the design of stormwater infiltration basins.

Keywords: Infiltration basins; Legacy contamination; Stormwater; Subsurface infrastructure; Vegetation.