The origin, distribution and abatement of nitrate contamination in surface and groundwater are traced by hydrochemical and stable isotope analyses. The studied sector of the Po Valley is approximately 3 600 km2 wide, extending from the Alps to the Apennine along a N–S transect. The phreatic aquifer is fed by local infiltration and by streams and irrigation channels, while the Po river represents the major discharge axis. The main diffuse source of nitrates is from synthetic fertilisers, exceedingly used for crop raising. Peak concentrations are instead associated to local leakage from the sewage network. The distribution of groundwater contamination is closely related to the hydraulic characteristics of the unsaturated zone, to agricultural input and irrigation practices. Denitrification is observed along major draining rivers and below rice fields. Results are interpreted in terms of aquifer vulnerability, groundwater circulation and land use.
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