Conventional hydrogeological, hydrochemical and environmental isotope study of the Sandspruit River Catchment, Berg River Basin, South Africa.
The Sandspruit River catchment, found within the heart of the Swartland region is infamous for wheat and wine production. Variable groundwater quality and low productivity is encountered within the folded and fractured Malmesbury Group aquifer, whilst the most productive and better quality groundwater is found within the Table Mountain Group sandstone. The Sandspruit catchment (a tributary of the Berg River) represents a drainage system, whereby saline groundwater with TDS up to 10870 mg/l, and EC up to 2140 mS/m has been documented. The catchment belongs to the winter rainfall region with precipitation seldom exceeding 400mm/yr, as such, groundwater recharge occurs predominantly from May to August. Recharge estimation using the catchment water-balance method, chloride mass balance method, and qualified guesses produced recharge rates between 8-70 mm/yr. To understand the origin, occurrence and dynamics of the saline groundwater, a coupled analysis of major ion hydrochemistry and environmental isotopes (δ¹⁸O, δ²H and ³H) data supported by conventional hydrogeological information has been undertaken. Research data were collected in three seasonal field sampling campaigns within the study catchment. These spatial and multi-temporal hydrochemical and environmental isotope data provided insight into the origin, mechanisms and spatial evolution of the groundwater salinity. These data also illustrate that the saline groundwater within the catchment can be attributed to the combined effects of evaporation, salt dissolution, and groundwater mixing. The geology together with the local and regional faults control the chemistry of the groundwater, whereby relatively fresh groundwater can be observed in certain direct recharge areas. The salinity of the groundwater tends to vary seasonally and evolves in the direction of groundwater flow. The stable isotope signatures further indicate two possible mechanisms of recharge; namely, (1) a slow diffuse type modern recharge through a relatively low permeability material as explained by heavy isotope signal and (2) a relatively quick recharge prior to evaporation from a distant high altitude source as explained by the relatively depleted isotopic signal and sub-modern to old tritium values. A conceptual hydrogeological model based on the hydrogeological, hydrochemical, and environmental isotope data was developed for the Sandspruit catchment. This model, together with statistical and groundwater quality analysis has lead to the development of a proposed local optimized monitoring scheme for the catchment.
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