Document Type


Date of Degree Completion

Spring 2017

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Geological Sciences

Committee Chair

Carey Gazis

Second Committee Member

Susan Kaspari

Third Committee Member

Anne Johanson


Nitrate in the groundwater of the Lower Yakima Valley, Washington has long been known to frequently exceed the EPA maximum contaminant level standard for potable water (10 mg/L), adversely impacting communities with disadvantaged socio-economic status. In this research, nitrogen and oxygen isotopic signatures were determined for nitrate soil leachates and irrigation return flow collected in the Lower Yakima Valley, Washington and compared to previous isotopic studies of nitrate in Central Washington. δ15N, δ18O and Δ17O values are used to constrain sources of to groundwater. Isotope signatures for nitrate from soil leachate largely overlapped with the point cloud of data for nitrate in groundwater in a local EPA study. The groundwater nitrate was largely attributed to a mixture of manure and fertilizer. However, isotope signatures in this study also overlapped with isotopic values attributed to naturally occurring soil nitrate from a study at the nearby Hanford Site, Washington. A mass balance calculation based on Δ17O data suggests that there is a ~9% atmospheric contribution to nitrate in soil accumulations below caliche layers at several locations. This atmospheric input was consistent across multiple sites. We argue that the consistent atmospheric component implies the nitrate in these soil samples at depth appears to have a largely predominately non-anthropogenic origin, because a significant anthropogenic input would dilute and cause variation in this atmospheric signature. We suggest the flushing of naturally occurring soil nitrate to groundwater during land use conversion to irrigated agriculture may represent a previously overlooked, significant, nitrate input to shallow alluvial aquifers in this region.



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