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Saudi Journal of Biological Sciences 15 (2) 289-296 December, 2008 ISSN 1319-562X The Official Journal of the Saudi

Biological Society

Groundwater Investigation in Bel-Ahmar, Assir, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

A.R. Khanfar King Khalid university, College of science, Biological Science department, P. O. Box-9004, Abha 61413, Saudi Arabia

Groundwater is generally presumed to be good for human consumption and is used as a potential source of drinking water. Agricultural development, urbanization and industrialization are the major causes for all changes in the quality of water. Saudi Arabia is an arid and the largest country in the Middle East. Recent urban and rural expansion has shown manifold increases in water use in various sectors. Water resources are limited and non-renewable coupled with unpredicted scanty rainfall. In order to meet the rising water needs, evaluation of water quality is important for allocation to various uses. The chemical quality of groundwater of Bel-Ahmar has been studied in detail in order to demonstrate the potable groundwater zones without any deterioration by pollution. Water samples were analyzed for total salt concentration, pH, Ca, Mg, Po4, TDS, HC03, Cl, S04, N03, and NH4 contents. The EC of groundwater ranged between 230.0s/cm to300.0 s/cm. Magnesium was the most abundant cation. Chloride was the most abundant anion followed by HC03 and S04 in groundwater of Bel-Ahmar. The N03 concentration is more than the safe limits for drinking purpose according to WHO (2003) standards. PO4 values are within the permissible limits according to SASO (1993). The salinity of groundwater of Bel-Ahmar were classified as fresh water according to ANZECC (2000) classification. Key words: Groundwater, Arid region, Pollutants, Saudi Arabia.

Groundwater is very important as the only source of water to supply human needs especially in arid regions like Saudi Arabia where there is scarce surface water and the rainfall is scarce, irregular and the evaporation rates are very high. Hence, the groundwater is a key resource for urban and rural supplies and it is considered as the only source, which can supply domestic and agricultural needs in town and villages. In Saudi Arabia, there are increasing needs of water as there is rapid growth of population and agricultural activities in increasing around the country (AlAhmadi, 2005). The usage of groundwater has gradually increased because of the increase of water demand and the shortage of surface water during growth of population. In many cases groundwater is polluted by the inflow of pollutants such as sewage and industrial wastewater (Freeze and Cherry, 1979). The residents who use contaminated groundwater as drinking water may suffer from health problems in the near future. But it is very difficult to elucidate or predict
Saudi Journal of Biological Sciences Vol. 15, No (2) December, 2008


the pollution pattern because potential sources which include land disposal of solid wastes, sewage disposal on land, agricultural activities and other sources are various, and pollutants move through ground water (Fetter, 1994; Hwang et al., 1997). Surface waters like streams and lakes are not the only water sources that suffer from pollution. Groundwater aquifers, which are critical sources of both drinking and irrigation waters, are also affected. The major causes of groundwater pollution are leaching of pollutants from agriculture, industry and untreated sewage, as well as saltwater intrusion caused by over pumping. The quality of water for various uses is determined by its physical characteristics, chemical composition, biological parameters and the conditions of use. Because all the waters, surface or sub-surface, contain salts in different amounts and proportions and will increase the salt concentration of soil solution upon irrigation, because water will evaporate under highly evaporative environmental conditions thus


A.R. Khanfar

leaving the salt into the soil. Once pollutants enter a groundwater aquifer, the environmental damage can be severe and long lasting, partly because of the very long time needed to flush pollutants out of the aquifer (UNEP 1996). Because groundwater is primarily used for drinking water, pollution from untreated sewage, intensive agriculture, solid waste disposal, and industry can cause serious human health problems (Shiklomanov 1997). Due to the harmful health effect of excessive pollutants in human and animal food much research has been conducted on its accumulation in food plant and water resources. Even where available, data usually are not comparable because of the different measures and standards used, which vary by country (Shiklomanov 1997 and Scheidleder et al. 1999). However, there is evidence that groundwater contamination from fertilizers, pesticides, industrial effluents, sewage and hydrocarbons is occurring in many parts of the world. As with surface waters, nitrate pollution is one of groundwaters most serious threats. In general, the risk of nitrate pollution for groundwater supplies is directly related to the amount of fertilizers or other nitrogen inputs to the land, as well as the permeability of the soil. For example, half the groundwater samples in a heavily fertilized region of northern China contain nitrate levels above the safe limit for drinking water (Zhang et al. 1996). In the United States, where groundwater supplies drinking water for more than half the population, a preliminary analysis of nitrate contamination found that high nitrate concentrations are widespread in shallow groundwater aquifers in agricultural areas (USGS 1999). Groundwater pollution in Europe is similarly widespread (Scheidleder et al.1999). Variations in natural and human activities reflect spatial variations in the hydro-chemical parameters of the groundwater. The difference of dissolved ions concentration in groundwater are generally, governed by lithology, velocity and quantity of groundwater flow, nature of geochemical reactions, solubility of salts and human activities (Karanth, 1997 and Bhatt and Salakani, 1996). Suitable quantity and quality of groundwater become a more crucial alternative resource to meet the drastic increase in social, agricultural and industrial development and to avoid the expected deterioration of groundwater quality due to heavy abstraction for miscellaneous uses. The main objective of this paper is to study the chemistry of groundwater of Bel-Ahmar.

Mongolia. The study was conducted in Bel-Ahamr area in the southwestern region of Saudi Arabia in the Province of Assir about 40 km to the south of capital Abha (Batanouny, 1978). It extends from 13 38` south latitude and 42 19` east longitude. Bel-Ahmar center counted as one of the biggest centers of Assir and an estimated population of 70,000 distributed between Sarat, Tuhama and Badiyah in 173 villages. It lies from the plains, mountains and Tuhama (Fig. 1). Sample collection Groundwater quality is studied by systematic collection and analysis of samples, which enable us to properly manage the resources. A total of three water samples were collected from different wells located in Bel-Ahmar during the winter months of November and December in the year of 2007 about 5 L water was collected. The water samples were collected in plastic bottles, pH , EC, TDS were measured instantly and the samples were stored in an ice box during transportation. Each sample was divided into two portions; one for cation analysis and the other for anion determinations. Concentration of total dissolved ions, Ca, Mg, Po4, TH, C03, HC03, Cl, S04, NH4 and N03 were determined. The analytical procedures used for these determinations were those described in APHA, 1976 & Adoni, 1985 and are shown below: Parameters Electrical conductivity pH and TDS Sulphate Chloride Alkalinity Cations Methods Conductivity meter Glass electrode Turbidiometrically Titration method Titration method Flame photometer

Study area The Arabian Peninsula is located in an arid belt extending from Northern Africa through Arabian Peninsula, Iran and

Materials and Methods

The evaluation of the suitability of groundwater for drinking purpose, based on either individual or gross ionic concentration, has been attempted based on the drinking water specification provided by the Saudi Arabian Standards organization (SASO) drinking water standards (1993). (Table, 1) give the ppm concentration of individual constituents, groundwater, hardness, electrical conductance and pH of the groundwater. Increased emphasis on governmental policies in the environmental protection of natural resources has led to many rigorous investigations of the pollutant levels in soil and groundwater. It could be possible to assess the degree of contamination in dry domain of the environment only, when the natural background values are available for comparison with the threshold values.
Saudi Journal of Biological Sciences Vol. 15, No (2) December, 2008


Groundwater Investigation in Bel-Ahmar, Assir, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Fig 1. Showing the location of Belahmar area in Assir Province.

Saudi Journal of Biological Sciences Vol. 15, No (2) December, 2008


A.R. Khanfar

Table 1. Physica and chemical constituents of Bel-Ahmar Groundwater wells. Sr. NO.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16

Temperature pH Conductivity Total dissolved solids Chlorides Total alkalinity Carbonates Bicarbonates Total hardness Calcium Magnesium Nitrate Ammonia Phosphates Sulphates Salinity

Well No.1 (Masfara)

16.00C 7.81 230 719 105.00 20.00 00.00 2.00 440.00 6.68 25.27 72.00 00.00 00.00 0.311 0.22

Well No.2 (Al-Rekieb)

15.00C 7.76 255 882 160.00 34.00 00.00 3.40 444.00 5.04 25.60 70.00 1.00 0.01 1.415 0.319

Well No.3 (Anam)

15.00C 7.80 300 889 175.00 30.00 00.00 3.00 440 6.72 25.26 66.00 1.00 0.02 1.23 0.346

1- Groundwater Types The chemical classification of the water as determined by Handa (1964 a) has shown that the majority of water samples were hard (non-carbonate), had medium to high salinity and low sodium percentage. The first and foremost waters are those in which r -CO3 > r SO4 - Type I As the residence time of the water increases the relation changes to r SO4 > r Cl - Type II with increase in residence time the chemistry changes to r Cl > r SO4 > r CO3 - Type III and in the final stages the concentration reaches r Cl > r SO4 > r CO3 and r Na > r Mg > r Ca - Type IV (Where r is the ppm content of the different ions) The change of water from I to IV is attributed to the relative residence time in the aquifer and extent of rock interactions. 2- Electrical Conductivity Electrical conductivity is an index of the amount of minerals present and it varies with temperature. Wilcox (1948) classified the utility of groundwater for irrigation purposes based on Electrical conductivity. The electrical conductivity was found in the range of 230.0s/cm to300.0 s/cm.

Results and Discussion

Depending on the conductivity, water can be classified as excellent, good, permissible, brackish and saline. 3- Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) Based on total dissolved solids, groundwater has been classified for various uses like general, household, drinking, irrigation and industry using the proposed concentration limits. The area could then be divided into 2 horizons as shown in table-1 (TDS < 800 and 882-889ppm). Majority of observed wells has TDS < 800ppm followed by 882 to 889ppm. Groundwater during its movement in the subsurface slowly increases in the TDS concentrations. It has been noticed by Freeze and Cherry (1979) that shallow groundwater in the recharge areas has lower TDS than that in discharge areas. 4- Chlorides Chlorides are one of the major anions found in water. Drinking water standards recommended a maximum chloride concentration of 175ppm. This means that the groundwater of Bel-Ahmaris mainly being within the safe limits for irrigation based on Stuyfzand(1986) classification. 5- Total Hardness Water hardness is primarily the amount of calcium and magnesium, and to a lesser extent, iron in the water. Water hardness is measured by adding up the concentrations of calcium, magnesium and converting this value to an equivalent concentration of calcium carbonate (CaCO3)
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Groundwater Investigation in Bel-Ahmar, Assir, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

in milligrams per liter (mg/L) of water. The Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality Hardness divide hardness into the following categories: Hardness Category Soft Medium hard Hard Very hard Equivalent Concentration of CaCO3 < 60 mg/L 60 mg/L to < 120 mg/L 120 to < 180 mg/L 180 mg/L or greater

The optimum range of hardness in drinking water is from 80 to 100 mg/L. Water with hardness greater than 200 mg/L is considered poor and water with hardness greater than 500 mg/L is normally considered unacceptable for domestic purposes. Samples were analyzed for hardness, had hardness concentrations over 400 mg/L and it is belonging to the fourth category with very hard water and unacceptable for domestic purpose without treatment. Some types of hardness can be removed by boiling. Water treatment methods such as reverse osmosis, ion exchange or oxidizing filters can be used to reduce other types of water hardness. With the ion exchange process, water is pumped through a tank containing a resin that causes calcium and magnesium ions to be exchanged for sodium or potassium ions. As sodium ion exchange increases the concentration of sodium in water, the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality recommend that if this method is used for treatment, a separate, non-softened water supply should be maintained for drinking and cooking purposes. 6- Total Alkalinity, Carbonates and Bicarbonates Alkalinity is waters acid-neutralizing capacity and is primarily a function of carbonate, bicarbonate and hydroxide content. Excessive alkalinity levels may cause scale formation. Carbonates can only exist if the pH of the water exceeds 8.3. This seldom occurs in natural waters. Bicarbonate is the major form of alkalinity. In excessive amounts, bicarbonates, in conjunction with calcium, may cause scale formation in heated waters. Most natural waters have an alkalinity in the range of 10 to 500 mg/L. However, in most waters, alkalinity and hardness have similar values because the CO3-2 and HCO3responsible for total alkalinity are usually brought into the water in the form of CaCO3 or MgCO3. The three forms of alkalinity are also strongly related to the amount of carbon dioxide present in the water. Based on Stuyfzands(1986) classification, the groundwater of Bel-Ahmar area wells is found to be dominated by soft water.
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7- Nitrates Sample analyses indicate that all the ground water samples have nitrates > 66ppm (66-72ppm). Most of the nitrogen in the groundwater is probably derived from the biosphere. The nitrogen originally fixed from the atmosphere, is mineralized by soil bacteria into ammonium, which is converted into nitrate by nitrifying bacteria under aerobic conditions (Tindall et al., 1995) The main sources of nitrate are due to either natural or anthropogenic activities - rainfall and dry fall out, soil nitrogen, nitrate deposit, sewage, septic tank and animal waste, manure or compost, green manure and plant residues, atmospheric nitrogen fixation, fertilizer nitrogen from irrigated overflow water outlets and industrial effluent (Ternamche, 1991). Nitrate is the end product of oxidation of nitrogen in the environment. Higher level of nitrate concentrations is an indication of pollution from either sewage or agricultural fertilizer waste. It is beyond doubt, an essential plant nutrient, but at the same time a potential threat to human health when present in excess concentrations in the drinking water (Bulusu and Pande, 1990). The maximum permissible limit of nitrate concentration in water for various purposes especially for drinking is 45 mg L_1 according to WHO (1998). The data reveal that the groundwater contains high level of nitrate, which is not within permissible limits for drinking purposes. 8- Ammonia The term ammonia includes the non-ionized (NH3) and ionized (NH4+) species. Ammonia in the environment originates from metabolic, agricultural and industrial processes and from disinfection with chloramines. Natural levels in groundwater and surface water are usually below 0.2 mg/liter (WHO, 2003). Anaerobic ground waters may contain up to 3mg/liter. Intensive rearing of farm animals can give rise to much higher levels in surface water. Ammonia contamination can also arise from cement mortar pipe linings. Ammonia in water is an indicator of possible bacterial, sewage and animal waste pollution (WHO, 2003). Samples analysis indicates that the wells No.2 & 3 have Ammonia of 1.00 ppm and it is not appear in the first well. 9- Phosphates Slight increases may cause numerous undesirable effects, such as: accelerated plant growth, algal blooms and low dissolved oxygen levels. Phosphate levels below 0.03 mg/L are generally considered to be unpolluted. Levels between 0.03 and 0.1 mg/L are sufficient to stimulate plant growth. The critical level for avoiding severe impact is


A.R. Khanfar

0.1 mg/L. However, the Po4 concentration of groundwater samples was found within permissible limit. 10- Groundwater Salinity Salinity of groundwater is a useful indicator of the land area at risk from salinity. Acceptable levels of salinity (in terms of targets and trigger levels) for the top few meters of water tables or within a certain depth from the surface will differ depending on the depth of the water table, what the groundwater in an area is to be used for and the effect of groundwater on important assets(ANZECC, 2000). The salinity of the groundwater is classified into two types, fresh and brackish. The present groundwater samples are of fresh water.

We thank the biological science department chairman for providing the facilities in the research laboratory to carry this study. Author wish to thank Mr. Mohammad Nasar for invaluable assistance in collecting samples and providing the maps.


Recommendations 1. The best method for the preservation of groundwater quality is to be protecting groundwater from pollution before being contaminated. 2. This study emphasizes the need for periodical monitoring of bore well water to assess its suitability for drinking purposes. 3. Serious health effects are associated with excess nitrate in water and therefore the water supply authority in association with public departments should create awareness among the people about the importance in maintaining the surrounding localities (to maintain the quality of groundwater) from public health point of view. 4. Periodic maintenance and cleaning of the bore wells and the water supply systems should be done to avoid encrustation. 5. Disposal of solid waste in an environ-mentally sound way to avoid leaching, etc. 6. Leakage from underground and open drain system should be stopped. 7. A systematic control program such as constructing a database of groundwater and building GIS will be recommended in order to manage groundwater effectively.

Adoni, A.D. 1985. Work book on Limnology. Pratibha publication, Sagar, New Delhi, India: 216.


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