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Evaluation of groundwater quality in and
around Nagercoil town, Tamilnadu, India: an
integrated geochemical and GIS...
Article · September 2013
DOI: 10.1007/s13201-013-0109-y
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Srinivas Yasala
Manonmaniam Sundaranar University
Hudson Oliver
Vel Tech - Technical University
A. Stanley Raj
Loyola College
N. Chandrasekar
Manonmaniam Sundaranar University
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Evaluation of groundwater quality in and around Nagercoil town,
Tamilnadu, India: an integrated geochemical and GIS approach
Y. Srinivas • D. Hudson Oliver • A. Stanley Raj •
N. Chandrasekar
Received: 10 January 2013 / Accepted: 27 May 2013 / Published online: 14 June 2013
 The Author(s) 2013. This article is published with open access at Springerlink.com
Abstract This study was made to find the ground water
quality for samples of the town located in the southern
most end of India. The study was carried out to evaluate the
major ion chemistry, the factors controlling water composition, and suitability of water for both drinking and irrigation purposes. Totally, 21 ground water samples were
collected randomly from bore wells and hand pumps
throughout the Nagercoil town and its surroundings. The
collected samples were analyzed for major ions and the
analytical data were interpreted according to published
guide lines. The spatial maps show that the concentration
of the chemical constituent in ground water varies spatially
and temporarily. Sodium is the most dominant cation with
Cl- and HCO3
- as the dominant anion. The abundant of
the major is as follows: Na? [ Cl- [ Mg2? [ K? which
is equal to HCO3
- [ Cl- [ SO4. Only one-third of the
samples best fit for both consumption and agricultural
purposes. The spatial maps show high contamination along
the southern region of the study area. Total hardness of the
collected samples lies between 60 and 490 mg/l reveals
that the 33 % groundwater samples exceeds the safe limit
of 300 mg/l. Total dissolved solids (TDS) in the study area
ranges between 67 and 2,086 mg/l with a mean value of
523 mg/l. High total hardness and TDS in few places
identified that the ground water is unsuitable for drinking
and irrigation. In these places, the aquifers are subject to
contamination from sewage effluents and excess use of
fertilizer and pesticides in agriculture. Such areas require
adequate drainage and introduction of alternative salt tolerance cropping.
Keywords Ground water  Drinking and irrigation water
quality  Spatial distribution  Water quality index 
Nagercoil  India
Water is an essential input not only for the human existence,
but also for all developments. Demand for ground water has
increased tremendously in recent years due to the industrialization, urbanization, population increase, and intense
agricultural activities. Many cities and towns in India obtain
ground water through municipality network and extremely
from private bore wells. Hence, knowledge of hydrochemistry is important to assess the ground water quality in
any area in which the ground water is used for both irrigation and drinking needs. The water quality assessment
may give clear information about the sub surface geologic
environments in which the water presents (Raju et al. 2011).
Over exploitation of ground water has immensely affected
its quality and quantity. In several parts of the world, lots of
studies have been already carried out to assess the
geochemistry of ground water (Samira and Jurdi 2007;
Siddiqui et al. 2005; Belkhiri and Mouni 2012). In India,
several studies were carried out on the groundwater and its
quality. Jain (1996) carried a research on the hydrogeochemistry and groundwater quality of Singhari river basin,
district of Chattarpur which belongs to Madhya Pradesh
State. Kaushik et al. (2000) studies the groundwater quality
of Ambala and Nilokheri Cities in Haryana. Sarath Prasanth
et al. (2012) evaluate the groundwater quality and its
suitability for drinking and agricultural use in the coastal
stretch of Alappuzha district in Kerala. In Tamilnadu,
several researchers such as Ramesh et al. (1995), Sreedevi
Y. Srinivas  D. H. Oliver (&)  A. S. Raj  N. Chandrasekar
Centre for GeoTechnology, Manonmaniam Sundaranar
University, Tirunelveli 627012, Tamil Nadu, India
e-mail: hudson2612@gmail.com
Appl Water Sci (2013) 3:631–651
DOI 10.1007/s13201-013-0109-y
(2002), Rajmohan and Elango (2005), Srinivasamoorthy
et al. (2011), Sajil Kumar and James (2013), and Krishna
Kumar et al. (2011) carried some works in the groundwater
quality studies. Therefore, an evaluation of quality of the
groundwater is an important task to be done in a scientific
way. To provide a simple and valuable tool for decision
making on the groundwater quality, an integrated approach
of both, water quality index (WQI), and geographical
information system (GIS) can be used.
WQI is a mathematical tool which can transform large
amount of water quality data into a single number which
represents the water quality level. Several researchers have
already used the WQI as a tool to obtain the quality of
groundwater (Tiwari and Mishra 1985; Debels et al. 2005;
Sandow and Adadow. 2010; Vasanthavigar et al. 2010).
The spatial distribution of various hydrochemical parameters can be successfully mapped using GIS. It is already
used by numerous authors to obtain good results (Ahn and
Chon 1999; Nas and Berktay 2010; Dar et al. 2011). Some
previous works were done concentrating the coastal area
near the southern side of the study area. In the earlier years,
the groundwater quality in the study area was better when
compared to recent years (Bhagavathi Perumal and
Thamarai 2008a). In Nagercoil and the surrounding area,
the groundwater quality is in a declining trend because of
over exploitation and other anthropogenic activities. So,
water quality assessment of present scenario is needed. The
objectives of the present study is to carry out a preliminary
investigation and interpretation of the groundwater quality
in and around Nagercoil town and to demarcate the regions
where the groundwater is suitable or unsuitable for both
domestic and agricultural purpose based on geochemical
and GIS approach.
Study area
The area chosen for study is located in Kanyakumari district, the southern end of India. The region covers about
30 km2 area in and around Nagercoil city and lies between
the longitudes 771803000E–77340E and 8403000N–
81304500N latitudes (Fig. 1). In the south, the coast present
in a distance of about 6 km from the study area. Nagercoil is
the 12th largest city in the South Indian State of Tamilnadu
and a municipality and administrative head quarters of
Kanyakumari district. The city is situated closed to the tip of
the peninsular India is the southernmost city in the Indian
main land. Nagercoil city and its surroundings commonly
called as ‘‘Nanjilnadu’’ has an average elevation of about
13 m above the mean sea level. Sandwiched between the
Arabian Sea and the Western Ghats, the city is surrounded
by hills, lush green paddy field, and sandy beaches on
western sides. Nagercoil has a pleasant, tough humid climate for major part of the year. The average annual rainfall
of this district, 70 years is 1,448.6 mm. A general overall
view of rainfall pattern recorded in the different rainfall
stations indicate that the precipitation varies from 764.30 to
208.30 mm. Most of the rainfall occurs during NE and SE
monsoon periods. The contribution of southwest monsoon
and northeast monsoon are 37.16 and 37.18 % of the annual
rainfall, respectively (Bhagavathi Perumal and Thamarai
2008b). The temperature data indicate higher and lower
temperatures prevailed during monsoon period. The average maximum temperature during May is 35.93 C. The
average minimum temperature recorded is 23.85 C during
January. The annual mean minimum and maximum temperatures are 23.78 and 33.95 C, respectively (CGWB
2008). The population density in this city is very high. It is
about 11,581 peoples per sq.km, according to 2011 census
of India.
Geology and hydrogeology
Geologically, hard rock formations namely granite gneiss
and charnockites cover the major part of Kanyakumari
district. The rock types present throughout the study area
are charnockites, leptinites, leptinite gneiss, granite gneiss,
laterites, sandstones, variegated clay, river alluvium, etc.
(Fig. 1). The north of northwestern sides of the district is
completely occupied by western ghat mountain with a
maximum elevation of 1,658 m. The coastal region in the
south is a thin strip of plain region having a width of
1–2.5 km (Fig. 2). The coastal line has narrow stretches of
beaches and sand dunes. The area adjoining the coast is
characterized by laterite cappings. Soil types within the
study area are classified into red loams, red lateritic soil,
and pale reddish in color. Generally, the mixed types of red
and alluvial soil occur within the study area. Commonly,
the soils are highly acidic in nature due to massive rainfall
and heavy leaching of basic rocks in hilly areas. The
thickness of soils in the mountain is almost negligible,
whereas it is around 2 m in the valleys. The sands noticed
along the coast are of recent origin.
Charnockites group consists mainly of charnockites,
pyroxene granulites, and their associated migmatites.
Charnockites also are exposed within the gneisses as bands
and lenses. Groundwater occurs in almost all the geologic
formations in the district. The groundwater occurrence is
limited to only weathered mantle of the hard rock. The
groundwater occurrence is limited to 10–35 m below the
ground level with respect to the weathered thickness range.
In the bazada and valley-fill area, the water table is very
shallow. In alluvial formation, the groundwater occurs
632 Appl Water Sci (2013) 3:631–651
under water table conditions. These formations are highly
permeable and porous, and the thickness is very shallow.
Mostly, on hard rock regions, the occurrence of weathered thickness is discontinuous both in space and depth.
Hence, the groundwater recharge is influenced by the
intensity of weathering. The depth of the wells in the study
area varies from 1 to 23 m below ground level (CGWB
2008). The groundwater level reaches its lowest level in the
driest or hottest periods after which it starts rising to reach
the highest peak, a little after the end of the rainy seasons.
A general overall water level fluctuation suggests the
raising during October–December and receding from
February to September. A slight rising trend is seen during
July because of southwestern monsoon rain. However,
general water level conditions during past 10 years are in
decreasing trend (PWD 2005).
Materials and methods
A total of 21 groundwater samples are collected from dug
wells and bore wells during January 2012. The samples
were collected in the thoroughly acid-washed polyethylene
bottle of 1 l. During sampling analysis and transportation
of water samples to the laboratory, all necessary precautions were taken (Brown et al. 1974). Electrical conductivity (EC) and hydrogen ion concentration (pH) were
determined on the field itself using digital meters. Water
Fig. 1 Location and geology
map of the study area
Appl Water Sci (2013) 3:631–651 633
samples were analyzed at the laboratory for chemical
constituents, such as calcium, magnesium, chloride,
bicarbonate, sodium, potassium, and sulfate by employing
standard methods as suggested by the American public
health association (APHA 1989). Calcium, magnesium,
bicarbonate, and chloride were analyzed using volumetric
titration. Ethylene di-amine tetra acetic acid (EDTA)
titration was used to estimate the concentration of calcium
and magnesium. Bicarbonate concentration was estimated
by acid titration (H2SO4). Argentometric titration was used
to find the volume of chloride. Flame photometer was used
to determine sodium and potassium ions. Sulfate was
determined using the spectrophotometer. From the values
of the calcium and magnesium ion concentration in
groundwater, the total hardness was found out by the following equation (Todd 1980)
TH ¼ 2:497Ca2þ þ 4:115Mg2þ mg/l: ð1Þ
Total dissolved solids (TDS) were estimated by calculation
method. The accuracy of the chemical analysis was verified
by calculating ion balance errors, where the errors were
generally within 10 % (Mandel and Shiftan 1981). The
geochemical data was presented in the graphical charts such
as Wilcox’s salinity diagram and US salinity diagram to
identify the hydrogeochemistry of the groundwater and to
evaluate their suitability for agricultural uses. To understand
Fig. 2 Geomorphology of the
study area
634 Appl Water Sci (2013) 3:631–651
the details of the factors controlling the chemistry of
groundwater, Gibb’s plots were also constructed.
For creating the spatial distribution maps, GIS has emerged
as a powerful tool. GIS can be used for storing, displaying,
and analyzing spatial data. By using this data, we can make
decisions in several areas including environmental and
engineering field (Stafford 1991; Goodchild 1993; Burrough and McDonnell 1998a; Lo and Yeung 2003). The
spatial distribution maps were prepared to show the variation in concentrations of the various chemical parameters
using inverse distance weighted (IDW) raster interpolation
Fig. 3 Spatial distribution of
total dissolved solids (TDS) in
the study area
Appl Water Sci (2013) 3:631–651 635
technique of the spatial analyst module in ArcGIS9.1. The
general formula used in the IDW interpolation method was
i¼1 kiZðSiÞ ð2Þ
where Ẑ (SO) is the value we are trying to predict for S0,
N is the number of measured sample points surrounding the
prediction location that will be used in the prediction, and
ki is the weights assigned to each measured point that we
are used here. These weights will decrease with distance;
Z (Si) is the observed value at the location Si. When we
compare several interpolation techniques, IDW with a
squared distance term gives the more consistent results
(Burrough and McDonnel 1998a, b; Mathes and Rasmussen 2006) In this study, spatial distribution maps were
generated for the selected water quality parameters, namely
TDS, TH, Ca2?, Mg2?, SO4
2-, Na?, K?, HCO3
-, and WQI
(Figs. 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11).
Fig. 4 Spatial distribution of
total hardness (TH) in the study
636 Appl Water Sci (2013) 3:631–651
Calculation of water quality index
WQI was calculated by considering 10 of the chemical
parameters. WQI is a collective and simple method for
ground water quality analysis. It gives a clear picture
about the overall quality of water. We adopt the following
formula to determine the WQI as given below (Asadi
et al. 2007),
WQI ¼ Antilog
Xn i¼1 wilog10qi
h i
where the weightage factor (wi) is calculated using the
following equation,
wi ¼ k=sn ð4Þ
where k is a constant and the value of k and sn is the
standard value of ith parameter,
Fig. 5 Spatial distribution of
calcium (Ca2?) in the study area
Appl Water Sci (2013) 3:631–651 637
k ¼ 1
þ 1
þ    þ 1
q ¼ va  við Þ= vs  við Þ½   100 ð6Þ
va is the actual volume obtained from laboratory analysis of
ith parameter, and vi is the value of water quality parameter
that can be obtained from standard tables. It is 7 for pH and 0
for all other values. vs is the standard value of the ith
parameter. vs1, vs2,…,vsn are the standard values of each
parameters obtained from WHO standards of drinking water.
Results and discussion
Drinking water quality
Suitability of water for various purposes was determined by
its quality depending upon the specific standards. The
Fig. 6 Spatial distribution of
magnesium (Mg2?) in the study
638 Appl Water Sci (2013) 3:631–651
drinking water must be soft, contains low dissolved solids,
and must be free from toxic constituents. The drinking
water standard derived from standards of World Health
Organization (WHO 1997) was used as the standard to
determine ground water quality for drinking purposes
(Table 1). The ground water is mainly of alkaline nature
(pH [ 7).The pH value of ground water in the study area
varies between 6.35 and 8.82, with an average of 7.76,
which clearly indicate the alkali nature in most of the
groundwater samples. The electrical conductivity at 25 C
ranges from 104 to 3,260 lS/cm with an average of
818 lS/cm. Out of total 21 samples, three of the samples
are crossing the maximum permissible limit of 1,500 lS/cm
(Table 3). The gastrointestinal irritation in human being
may be due to the higher EC content in ground water.
Geochemical processes such as ionic exchange, reverse
exchange, evaporation, silicate weathering, rock water
interaction, sulfate reduction and oxidation processes, and
Fig. 7 Spatial distribution of
sulfate (SO4
2-) in the study area
Appl Water Sci (2013) 3:631–651 639
anthropogenic activities are the factors responsible for
large variation in EC (Ramesh and Elango 2012).
TDS in the study area is between 67 and 2,086 mg/l with
a mean value of 523 mg/l. Based on TDS classification,
71.5 % of wells are having fresh water, which can be permitted for drinking. Remaining 28.5 % wells contain
brackish water, which can be used for irrigation only
(Freeze and cherri 1979) (Table 3). The dominance of
major cations are Na? [ Ca2? [ Mg2? [ K? and the
anions dominance are as HCO3
- [ Cl- [ S04
2-. The concentration of Ca2? ion ranges from 16 to 144 mg/l and the
average was 51 mg/l. The Ca2? limit desirable for drinking
water is specified as 75 mg/l (WHO 1997). Only 19 % of
ground water samples in this area exceed the permissible
limit. Mg2? ion concentration in the study area ranges
from 1 to 78 mg/l with an average of 30 mg/l; 23.8 % of
samples are crossing the desirable limit 50 mg/l. Ca2? and
Mg2? ions present in the ground water may be due to the
Fig. 8 Spatial distribution of
sodium (Na?) in the study area
640 Appl Water Sci (2013) 3:631–651
leaching process of limestone, dolomites, gypsum, and anhydrites (Garrels 1976). The low values of Ca2? and Mg2?
may be due to the reverse cationic exchange with sodium,
i.e., sodium ions replace Ca2? and Mg2? ions there by
reducing concentration (Thomson Jacob et al. 1999).
Due to the presence of divalent metallic cations, Ca2?
and Mg2?, the hardness may arise. The total hardness of
the samples lies between 60 and 490 mg/l with an average
of 240 mg/l. 33 % of the entire ground water samples have
total hardness exceeding the safe limits of 300 mg/l, which
is the maximum permissible limit for the drinking water
(Table 3). The property of hardness increases the boiling
point of water, and it can prevent the formation of lather
and soap. However, it has no noticeable adverse effect on
human health. The health problems such as urolithiasis,
anencephaly, prenatal mortality, some type of cancer, and
cardiovascular disorders may get increased due to the longterm usage of very high hard water (Agarwal and Jagetai
Fig. 9 Spatial distribution of
potassium (K?) in the study
Appl Water Sci (2013) 3:631–651 641
1997; Durvey et al. 1991). The recommended maximum
permissible limit for the sodium concentration in drinking
water is 200 mg/l. The sodium concentration in ground
water samples ranges from 16 to 197 mg/l with an average
value of 103 mg/l. None of the samples are exceeding the
maximum permissible limit, but 90 % of samples indicate
that they are beyond the desirable limit 50 mg/l. The
presence of higher sodium in ground water may cause
hypertension, congenial heart disease, and kidney problems
during our intake (Raju et al. 2011). The chemical data
from the ground water samples reveals that 62 % of samples are exceeding both desirable and permissible limit for
sodium. The potassium (K-) values in the groundwater
samples are recorded between 1.4 and 78 mg/l with an
average of 9 mg/l. 19 % of the total samples are crossing
the permissible limit of 12 mg/l of potassium in the
groundwater. The presence of silicate minerals in the
groundwater from the igneous and metamorphic rocks may
Fig. 10 Spatial distribution of
bi-carbonate (HCO3
-) in the
study area
642 Appl Water Sci (2013) 3:631–651
increase the concentration of potassium in the groundwater
(Karnath 1987). The excessive use of potassium for cultivation might have percolated into the groundwater also
increases the potassium content in groundwater (Jameel
and Hussain 2011).
The most dominant ion in the ground water was HCO3
in our study area. The value of HCO3
- lies between 30 and
463 mg/l with an average of 142 mg/l. Three of the total
samples exceed the permissible limit (300 mg/l) in our
study area. No known adverse health effects are noticed on
human beings because of bicarbonate ion. 19 % of ground
water samples indicate the higher chloride concentration
exceeding the maximum allowable limit. The higher concentrations of chloride in the groundwater may be because
of the percolation of domestic sewage and irrigated land
water (Bhatia 1998). High concentrations of chloride in
drinking water give a salty taste to the water and produce a
laxative effect on people not habituated to it. SO4
Fig. 11 Spatial distribution of
Water Quality Index (WQI) in
the study area
Appl Water Sci (2013) 3:631–651 643
concentration in the study area ranges from 1.5 to 97 mg/l.
Higher concentration of sulfate in drinking water may
cause respiratory problems (Maiti 1982).A higher sulfate
content also may have a laxative effect with excess of
magnesium and also causes corrosion of metals in the
distribution system if the water had low alkaline (Raju
et al. 2011).
Water quality index
The water quality of the study area was found using the
WQI which is a combined parameter which gives an equal
importance to all the parameters which we considered. The
classification based on WQI is presented in Table 2. From
the WQI, we have found that 38 % of the total samples fall
in the suitable limit for drinking, whereas 29 % of the total
groundwater samples get moderately polluted. The
remaining 33 % of samples were not suitable for drinking.
In the sampling stations, 12, 15, 16, and 17 located on the
south and east of the study area were highly polluted when
compared with the other stations. The sewage water and
the indiscriminate use of huge amount of fertilizer in the
surrounding agricultural lands may be the reason for the
pollution of groundwater (Adhikary et al. 2012) in the
study area.
Irrigation water quality
The ground water suitability for irrigation is contingent on the
effects of their mineral constituent in water on both soil and
plants (Richards 1954). An important factor which relates the
crop growth with water quality is drainage. If a soil is well
drained, crops may grow on it, even if it has a generous amount
of saline water. On the other hand, in poorly drained area but
having good quality water may fail to produce satisfactory
yield (Todd 1980). For determining the irrigation water
quality, some important hydrochemical parameters such as
EC, salinity, percent sodium, sodium adsorption ratio (SAR),
residual sodium carbonate (RSC), permeability index (PI),
Kelly’s index (KI), and magnesium ratio (MR) are used.
Salinity and alkalinity hazard
High electrical conductivity represents the elevated salt
content on water. In irrigation water, high salinity leads to
formation of saline soils, which is the major cause of loss in
production in irrigation lands. It also has adverse environmental impacts on irrigation. Based on EC values, Richards
(1954) classified the groundwater for irrigation into four
classes. According to the classification, 62 % of samples are
excellent to good; the remaining 38 % of samples are
medium and bad in salinity. SAR is a measure of sodium/
alkali hazards to crops. Sodium ion’s relative activity with
soil is expressed in terms of the sodium absorption ratio.
The SAR is calculated as follows (Karnath 1987):
SAR ¼ Na
Ca2þ þ Mg2þ
p =2
where all concentrations are expressed in meq/l.
Classification of water samples in the study area according to SAR values is done (Table 3). The SAR value in the
Table 1 Results of chemical analysis and range of the obtained parameters compared with WHO (1997) drinking water Standards
Concentrations of ions Ranges of standards
[WHO (1997)]
Samples exceeding
desirable limits
Percentage of
Range Mean (Desirable to
pH 6.35–8.82 7.69 7.0–9.2 w1, w2, w10, w19 19.1
EC (lS/cm) 104–3,260 818 500–1,500 w12, w15, w21 14.3
TDS (mg/l) 67–2,086 503 500–1,500 w6, w7, w9, w12, w14, w15, w16, w21 38.2
Ca2? (mg/l) 16–144 49.4 75–200 w12, w19–w21 19.1
Mg2? (mg/l) 0.6–77.8 28.2 30–150 w6, w7, w10, w12–w16, w18 42.8
Na? (mg/l) 16–197 99 50–200 w1, w2, w4–w7, w9–w21 90.6
K? (mg/l) 1.4–78 9 10–12 w14–w17 19.1
- (mg/l) 31–464 137 300–600 w9, w15, w16 14.3
- (mg/l) 1.5–97 25 200–600 – –
Cl- (mg/l) 16–905 160 250–600 w12, w15, w16, w21 19.1
TH (mg/l) 60–490 240 100–500 w1, w4–w7, w9, w10, w12–w21 80.9
Table 2 Classification based on water quality index
WQI Classification Sample numbers Total no.
of samples
\50 Suitable 2–4, 7, 8, 10, 11, 20 8 38.2
50–80 Moderately
1, 5, 6, 9, 18, 19 6 28.5
[80 Severely
12–17, 21 7 33.3
644 Appl Water Sci (2013) 3:631–651
study area ranges from 1.2 to 9.6 with an average of 4.2.
Expect two samples all other are in the low sodium region
(S1). Only one sample (Well no. 9) is crossing the limit 6–9.
In such cases, the irrigation water will cause permeability
problems on shrinking and swelling types of clayey soils
(Saleh et al. 1999). United States salinity diagram (Wilcox
1948) was obtained by plotting the correlation between SAR
and electrical conductivity (Fig. 12). It was found that 19 %
of samples fall in the C1–S1 region, which indicates low
salinity and low alkalinity hazard region. 43 % of samples
fall in the medium salinity and low alkalinity region C2–S1.
23.8 % of samples are in the region C3–S1, which indicates
high salinity with low alkalinity. Only two of the samples are
falling in the region C3–S2 and C4–S2 one each, respectively. Generally, the study area indicates low to high salinity
and low to medium alkalinity water, which can be used for
irrigation in almost all types of soils with a little danger of
exchangeable sodium.
- ratio
The salinization amount in the groundwater can be classified using the Cl-/HCO3
- ratios (Revelle 1941). The Cl-/
- ratio was computed for the groundwater samples of
the study area and given in Table 4. 19.1 % of the
groundwater samples in the study area having less than 0.5
2 ratios are not affected by salinization. All the
other groundwater samples in the study area are in slight to
Table 3 Classification based
on different chemical
Parameters Classification Sample numbers Total no. of
EC (lS/m) (Wilcox 1955)
\250 Low 1–3, 8, 20 5 23.8
250–750 Medium 4, 5, 10, 11, 13, 17–19 8 38.2
750–2,250 High 6, 7, 9, 12, 14–16 7 33.3
[2,250 Very high 21 1 4.7
TDS (mg/l) (USGS 2000)
\500 Desirable for drinking 1–4, 8, 13, 20 7 33.3
500–1,000 Permissible for drinking 5, 7, 10, 11, 14, 17–19 8 38.2
1,000–3,000 Useful for irrigation 6, 9, 12, 15, 16, 21 6 28.5
[3,000 Unfit for drinking and irrigation _ _ _
TH (mg/l) (Sawyer et al. 2003)
\75 Soft 3, 8, 11 3 14.3
75–150 Moderately hard 2, 4, 9 3 14.3
150–300 Hard 1, 5, 7, 10, 13, 17, 19, 20 8 38.1
[300 Very hard 6, 12, 14–16, 18, 21 7 33.3
SAR (Richards 1954)
0–6 No problems 1–8, 10, 12–21 19 90.6
9-Jun Increase problems 11 1 4.7
[9 Severe problems 9 1 4.7
RSC (meq/l) (Richards 1954)
\1.25 Good 1–8, 10–14, 18–21 17 80.9
1.25–2.5 Doubtful – – –
[2.5 Unsuitable 9, 15–17 4 19.1
Fig. 12 Rating of groundwater samples on relation to salinity hazard
and sodium hazard
Appl Water Sci (2013) 3:631–651 645
moderate salinity affected range. However, the values of
- high in some stations do not indicate the
seawater intrusion. It may be due to some other anthropogenic activities such as intrusion from domestic sewage
or possibly due to uncontrolled agricultural practices.
% Sodium
Sodium concentration in groundwater is a very important
parameter in determining the irrigation quality. The formula used for calculating the sodium percentage was
Na% ¼ Naþ þ Kþð Þ= Ca2þ þ Mg2þ þ Kþ þ Naþ
where all the ionic concentrations are in meq/l.
The determined valued of sodium percentage lies
between 31.7 and 76.5 (Table 5). The maximum allowable
limit of sodium percentage in groundwater is 60 % (Ramakrishna 1998). The percentage sodium and electrical
conductance are correlated by Wilcox as shown in Fig. 13.
Wilcox’s diagram shows that only three samples are
crossing the permissible limit. One of them, i.e., W21 is
unsuitable for irrigation due to its high EC content (Wilcox
1955). In irrigation water if the sodium concentration
became high, sodium ions tends to replace the Mg2? and
Ca2? ions by absorbed clay particles. This exchange process in soil reduces the permeability and eventually
decreases the internal drainage of the soil. Hence, water
and air circulation is restricted during wet conditions, and
such soils become hard in dry conditions (Collins and
Jenkins 1996; Saleh et al. 1999; Subramani et al. 2005).
Chemical weathering of rock forming minerals, dissolution–precipitation of secondary carbonates, and ion
exchange between water and clay minerals are some of the
general reactions responsible for the geochemical constitution of the groundwater. Dissolution of both primary
silicate and carbonate minerals may lead to the increase of
calcium, sodium, magnesium, and bicarbonate, which
increase the value of pH (Rouabhia et al. 2011). The higher
concentrations of sodium and chlorine in groundwater are
probably controlled by rock water interaction most likely
by feldspar weathering. The low sodium in some of the
samples is due to the ion exchange with calcium and
magnesium in clays, which is common in saline groundwater (Cartwright et al. 2004).
Chloroalkaline indices
Chloroalkaline indices 1 and 2 are used to understand the
chemical reactions in which ion exchange takes place
(Swarna Latha and Nageswara Rao 2012). Ions in
groundwater exchange with the ions of its aquifer environment during the periods of residence and movement.
They are calculated as follows:
CAI 1 ¼ ½Cl  ðNaþ þ KþÞ=Cl
CAI 2 ¼ ½Cl  ðNaþ þ KþÞ=ðSO42 þ HCO3 þ CO32 þ NO3Þ
where the concentration of ions are in meq/l.
Both the above indices are negative if there is an
exchange between calcium or magnesium in the groundwater with sodium and potassium in the aquifer material,
and both these indices will be positive if there is a reverse
ion exchange (Schoeller 1977). The obtained results point
out that most of the samples in the study area (14 wells)
display positive and some wells (7 wells) show negative.
This observation indicates that the reverse ion exchange is
the leading process in the groundwater, whereas normal ion
exchange is also observed in some wells during the study.
Residual sodium carbonate
High concentration of bi-carbonates in groundwater
increases the precipitation of calcium and magnesium as
carbonates. To qualify this effect in groundwater an (Eaton
1950). RSC can be calculated as follows (Regunath 1987):
RSC ¼ HCO3 þ CO23
 Ca2þ þ Mg2þ
all the concentrations are expressed in meq/l.
The classification of irrigation water based on the RSC
values is presented (Table 3), where 80% of samples are
good and remaining 20% are unsuitable for irrigation.
Table 4 Classification based on Cl-/HCO3
- values (Revelle 1941)
Classification Sample
Total no. of
\0.5 Not affected 9, 17, 19, 20 4 19.1
0.5–6.6 Slightly to
1–8, 10–16,
18, 21
17 80.9
[6.6 Severely affected – – –
Table 5 Classification of groundwater based on %Na values (Wilcox 1955)
Classification Sample numbers Total
no. of
\20 Excellent _ _
20–40 Good 3, 6, 13, 14, 18, 20 6 28.5
40–60 Permissible 1, 4, 5, 7, 8, 10, 12,
15–17, 19, 21
12 57.2
60–80 Doubtful 2, 9, 11 3 14.3
[80 Unsuitable _ _ _
646 Appl Water Sci (2013) 3:631–651
Kelley’s ratio
Kelley’s ratio was used to classify the irrigation water
quality (Kelley 1940), which is the level of Na? measured
against calcium and magnesium. The formula for calculating the Kelley’s ratio is as follows:
KR ¼ Na
ðCa2þ þ Mg2þÞ
where the concentration of ions are in mg/l.
Kelley’s ratios for all the groundwater samples are
calculated and it lies between 0.6 and 4.4 mg/l. Kelley’s
ratio value less than one is suitable for irrigation and more
than one is unsuitable. According to this classification, only
one-third of the total samples are suitable for irrigation.
Corrosivity ratio
The susceptibility of groundwater to corrosion is denoted
by corrosivity ratio (CR), which is expressed as the ratio of
alkaline earth metals to saline salts in groundwater (Ryner
1944; Raman 1985). Corrosivity ratio is calculated from
the formula,
CR ¼
þ 2 SO
2½ðCO23 þ HCO3 Þ=100
where the concentrations of ions is in mg/l.
Losses in hydraulic capacity of pipes are an effect of
corrosion. About 81% of samples have the corrosivity ratio
greater than one, which cannot be transported through
metal pipes. In such cases, the non-corrosive [polyvinyl
Chloride (PVC)] pipes can be a better choice for the water
transportations (Aravindan et al. 2004).
Spatial distribution
Representing the concentration of various ions on a map is
the simplest way to express the groundwater quality
information of a study area. In this present work, we
attempt to infer the spatial variations using IDW method of
ArcGIS9.1. Several maps are drawn for each ion separately. Spatial distribution of TDS shows that the concentration was more in the southern region of the study area
comparing to the other areas. In the case of total hardness
(TH), higher concentration was recorded in southern and
northeast areas. Considering calcium, the distribution is
more in south and west of the study area. The magnesium
map shows higher concentration in several parts of the
study area, but it is high in south and north east also.
Spatial distribution map of sulfate demarcates that the
southern area is having higher concentration comparing to
the other areas, the stations W9 and W16 also showing
higher concentration. Sodium ions are also distributed
similar to the sulfate ions. The region around wells 15 and
17 in south and east of the study area shows high
Fig. 13 Suitability of
groundwater for irrigation in
Wilcox diagram
Appl Water Sci (2013) 3:631–651 647
concentrations of potassium (K). The bicarbonate distribution is dominant in areas along south, east, and northeast
regions. Finally, WQI spatial distribution map shows that
the contamination of the groundwater is more in south and
eastern part of the study area. From these spatial maps, we
can predict that the southern side of the study area has
higher concentration for several elements, which seems to
be highly polluted. On the southern side of the study area,
the groundwater is influenced by saline water intrusion.
The irrigation return flow from irrigational activity can also
play a leading role in determining the sodium and chlorine
content responsible for the salinity. Water hardness arises
due to the presence of cations such as calcium and magnesium and anions such as bicarbonates, chlorides and
sulfides (Ravikumar et al. 2011).
Gibbs plot
The chemical composition of water and ascertained close
relationship that exists between aquifer lithology and water
compositional chemistry were proposed by Gibbs (1970)
through Gibbs diagram. It has three fields namely precipitation
dominance, evaporation dominance, and rock water dominance. Gibb’s diagrams were constructed by plotting ratios of
(1) dominant anions (Cl–/Cl- ? HCO3
-) and TDS (Fig. 14)
and (2) dominant cations [(Na? ? K?)(Na? ? K? ? Ca2?)]
and TDS (Fig. 15). The distribution of samples on the Gibbs
plots show that majority of them falls in the rock dominant
region and the surrounding rock materials plays a key role in
concentration of major cations and anions. This suggests that
the groundwater seems mostly to be controlled by chemical
weathering of rock forming minerals. Some of the samples
falling in the evaporation dominance zone show the process of
evaporation in the groundwater, which increases with increase
in water level as it is in close proximity to the surface (Todd
1980). This may increases the ion concentration in the
groundwater. Sometimes it may be due to several other
anthropogenic activities.
The rural to urban migration in Nagercoil town increases
urban expansion which in turns leads to several groundwater
quality problems. The groundwater geochemistry reveals
that the present status of groundwater samples collected in
the study area is better for drinking and irrigation purposes
Fig. 14 Gibbs diagram representing the mechanism controlling
chemistry of groundwater (Major anions vs. TDS) Fig. 15 Gibbs diagram representing the mechanism controlling
chemistry of groundwater (Major cations vs. TDS)
648 Appl Water Sci (2013) 3:631–651
except few samples, which are crossing the allowable limits
of World Health Organization (WHO) standards. The water
type Na–Mg–Ca–Cl–HCO3 is dominating in the study area.
Sodium is the most dominant ion, but the common trend was
sodium and calcium is the dominant cations with chlorine
and bicarbonate as the dominant anions. Even though the
majority of samples are within the permissible limits, few are
crossing it and some are very close to the allowable limits
which indicate there may be a deterioration of water quality
in near future. This was because of the interaction of the
ground water with sewage and intensive agricultural practices. Based on the WQI classification, only 38% of samples
are perfectly suitable for drinking purpose. Considering the
gross salinity, total hardness, pH, and other irrigation
parameters, majority of the groundwater samples shows a
fresh to highly saline, hard to very hard, slightly alkaline, and
excellent to permissible nature, respectively. The calculated
chemical parameters such as Na %, SAR, RSC, PI, CR, and
KR indicate that the water in the study area can be used for
irrigation with improved drainage facilities. High values of
electrical conductivity and high concentration of the chemical constituents such as Na?, Cl-, SO4
2-, and HCO3
present in the groundwater may be due to dissolution of
mineral phases and may be under the influence of anthropogenic activities such as interaction with sewage from
urban and industrial waste, massive usage of fertilizers, and
intense agricultural practices. From the GIS analyzed spatial
maps, we can see that the lower region of the study area has
highly affected groundwater quality when compared with the
other areas. Gibb’s plots confirm that the water chemistry in
the area was mostly controlled by weathering of rocks with a
minor contribution from atmospheric sources.
The present study estimates the drinking WQI and gives
the spatial distribution maps for the chemical constituents in
the Nagercoil town and its surroundings. Modern tools such
as GIS are used to obtain good and accurate assessment of
the quality. The spatial maps derived are helpful for the
public to gather knowledge about groundwater pollution.
The groundwater samples in few places limit their usage for
irrigation. Such areas need adequate drainage and salt tolerance cropping to overcome the problem. The rainwater
harvesting structures such as percolation ponds, check
dams, recharge pits, and farm ponds can be constructed for
the sustainability of quality of groundwater resources.
Acknowledgments The authors sincerely thank the Central Ground
Water Board, Chennai for providing necessary literatures relevant to
the work. The authors acknowledge the anonymous reviewers for
their help to improve the manuscript in the present form.
Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the
Creative Commons Attribution License which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original
author(s) and the source are credited.
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