In a thick unsaturated zone, when quick deep penetration of rain and irrigation water is absent, at the depths below 3-5 m there exists a zone of downwards quasi-steady water flow. Darcy's water velocity in this zone remains constant with depth and equal to the groundwater recharge rate; unit hydraulic head gradient occurs above the capillary fringe. Therefore, contaminant travel rate is equal to the ratio of hydraulic conductivity (K) and effective volumetric water content (θef). Field tracer experiments and laboratory K and θef determinations were carried out for several representative irrigated lots in the South Ukraine. The dependence of θef on capillary tension was studied for the first time. For loess loam with a capillary tension decreasing from 46 kPa to 0, θef nonlinearly increases from 12% to 27-28%. The effective water content portion (β1) of the total water content increases nonlinearly from 0.38 to 0.65-0.7. The β1 values were estimated for different unsaturated sedimentary rocks. For a capillary tension of about 5 kPa β1 values were: 0.88-0.99 for sands, about 0.65 for loess loam and chestnut soil, about 0.6 for sandy loam, about 0.32 for limestone and about 0.07 for clay. Calculated chloride travel rates in loess loams under irrigated soils fit the values of 0.001-0.003 m/day, determined by the results of field tracer experiments.

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