Groundwater stress and vulnerability in rural coastal aquifers under competing demands: a case study from Sri Lanka

Dumindu L. Jayasekera, Jagath J. Kaluarachchi, Karen G. Villholth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)


Rural coastal aquifers are undergoing rapid changes due to increasing population, high water demand with expanding agricultural and domestic uses, and seawater intrusion due to unmanaged water pumping. The combined impact of these activities is the deterioration of groundwater quality, public health concerns, and unsustainable water demands. The Kalpitiya peninsula located northwest of Sri Lanka is one area undergoing such changes. This land area is limited and surrounded almost completely by sea and lagoon. This study consists of groundwater sampling and analysis, and vulnerability assessment using the DRASTIC method. The results reveal that the peninsula is experiencing multiple threats due to population growth, seawater intrusion, land use exploitation for intensive agriculture, groundwater vulnerability from agricultural and domestic uses, and potential public health impacts. Results show that nitrate is a prevalent and serious contaminant occurring in large concentrations (up to 128 mg/l NO 3-N), while salinity from seawater intrusion produces high chloride content (up to 471 mg/l), affecting freshwater sources. High nitrate levels may have already affected public health based on limited sampling for methemoglobin. The two main sources of nitrogen loadings in the area are fertilizer and human excreta. The major source of nitrogen results from the use of fertilizers and poor management of intense agricultural systems where a maximum application rate of up to 11.21 metric tons N/km 2 per season is typical. These findings suggest that management of coastal aquifers requires an integrated approach to address both the prevalence of agriculture as an economic livelihood, and increasing population growth.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13-30
Number of pages18
JournalEnvironmental Monitoring and Assessment
Issue number1-4
Publication statusPublished - May 2011


  • Agriculture
  • Aquifer
  • Coastal
  • Nitrate
  • Public health
  • Salinity
  • Sri Lanka
  • Vulnerability

Programme Area

  • Programme Area 2: Water Resources


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