Assessing the Vulnerability of Public-Supply Wells to Contamination: Floridan Aquifer System Near Tampa, Florida

Fact Sheet 2009-3062

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This fact sheet highlights findings from the vulnerability study of a public-supply well in Temple Terrace, Florida, northeast of Tampa. The well selected for study typically produces water at the rate of 700 gallons per minute from the Upper Floridan aquifer. Water samples were collected at the public-supply well and at monitoring wells installed in or near the simulated zone of contribution to the supply well. Samples of untreated water from the public-supply wellhead contained the undesirable constituents nitrate, arsenic, uranium, radon-222, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and pesticides, although all were detected at concentrations less than established drinking-water standards, where such standards exist. Overall, study findings point to four primary factors that affect the movement and fate of contaminants and the vulnerability of the public-supply well in Temple Terrace: (1) groundwater age (how long ago water entered, or recharged, the aquifer); (2) short-circuiting of contaminated water through sinkholes; (3) natural geochemical processes within the aquifer; and (4) pumping stress. Although the public-supply well is completed in the Upper Floridan aquifer, it produces water with concentrations of nitrate, VOCs, and the natural contaminant radon that are intermediate between the typical composition of water from the Upper Floridan aquifer and that of the overlying surficial aquifer system. Mixing calculations show that the water produced by the public-supply well could consist of upwards of 50 percent water from the surficial aquifer system mixed with water from the Upper Floridan aquifer. Anthropogenically affected water from the surficial aquifer system travels rapidly to depth through sinkholes that must be directly connected to the cavernous zone intersected by the public-supply well (and several other production wells in the region). Such solution features serve as fast pathways to the well and circumvent the natural attenuation of nitrate and radon that occurs when water from the surficial aquifer flows downward through the confining unit and then through the Upper Floridan aquifer matrix. Roughly 50 percent of the simulated flow to the public-supply well consists of water less than about 10 years old, thus making the well vulnerable to contamination from human activities. Sampling at various depths in the public-supply well during pumping and nonpumping conditions showed that water entering the well from the cavernous zone had much higher arsenic concentrations during pumping conditions (18.9 ug/L) than during nonpumping conditions (4.2 ug/L). This implies that movement of arsenic to the public-supply well from the cavernous zone is enhanced by pumping. One possible explanation is that pumping increases the movement of water with elevated dissolved oxygen content through the cavernous zone, which causes dissolution of arsenic associated with pyrite. All public-supply wells in the area may not have the same level of vulnerability as the well studied - many of the public-supply wells in the region have lower pumping rates and longer open intervals that may draw in a larger proportion of old water that predates anthropogenic influences. Determining the similarity of water produced by various public-supply wells in the region to that of the surficial aquifer system is one measure of well vulnerability that could be used to prioritize monitoring and land-use planning efforts to protect the most vulnerable wells.

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Assessing the Vulnerability of Public-Supply Wells to Contamination: Floridan Aquifer System Near Tampa, Florida
Series title:
Fact Sheet
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Contributing office(s):
National Water Quality Assessment Program
6 p.