The Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and Indian Health Service are interested in improving the understanding of groundwater flow and groundwater/surface-water interaction on the Lac du Flambeau Reservation (Reservation) in southwest Vilas County and southeast Iron County, Wisconsin, with particular interest in an understanding of the potential for contamination of groundwater supply wells and the fate of wastewater that is infiltrated from treatment lagoons on the Reservation. This report describes the construction, calibration, and application of a regional groundwater flow model used to simulate the shallow groundwater flow system of the Reservation and water-quality results for groundwater and surface-water samples collected near a system of waste-water-treatment lagoons.
Groundwater flows through a permeable glacial aquifer that ranges in thickness from 60 to more than 200 feet (ft). Seepage and drainage lakes are common in the area and influence groundwater flow patterns on the Reservation. A two-dimensional, steady-state analytic element groundwater flow model was constructed using the program GFLOW. The model was calibrated by matching target water levels and stream base flows through the use of the parameter-estimation program, PEST. Simulated results illustrate that groundwater flow within most of the Reservation is toward the Bear River and the chain of lakes that feed the Bear River. Results of analyses of groundwater and surface-water samples collected downgradient from the wastewater infiltration lagoons show elevated levels of ammonia and dissolved phosphorus. In addition, wastewater indicator chemicals detected in three downgradient wells and a small downgradient stream indicate that infiltrated wastewater is moving southwest of the lagoons toward Moss Lake.
Potential effects of extended wet and dry periods (within historical ranges) were evaluated by adjusting precipitation and groundwater recharge in the model and comparing the resulting simulated lake stage and water budgets to stages and water budgets from the calibrated model. Simulated lake water budgets and water level changes illustrate the importance of understanding the position of a lake within the hydrologic system (headwater or downstream), the type of lake (surface-water drainage or seepage lake), and the role of groundwater in dampening the effects of large-scale changes in weather patterns on lake levels.
Areas contributing recharge to drinking-water supply wells on the Reservation were delineated using forward particle tracking from the water table to the well. Monte Carlo uncertainty analyses were used to produce maps showing the probability of groundwater capture for areas around each well nest. At the Main Pumphouse site near the Village of Lac du Flambeau, most of the area contributing recharge to the wells occurs downgradient from a large wetland between the wells and the wastewater infiltration lagoons. Nonetheless, a small potential for the wells to capture infiltrated wastewater is apparent when considering uncertainty in the model parameter values. At the West Pumphouse wells south of Flambeau Lake, most of the area contributing recharge is between the wells and Tippecanoe Lake.
The extent of infiltrated wastewater from two infiltration lagoons was tracked using the groundwater flow model and Monte Carlo uncertainty analyses. Wastewater infiltrated from the lagoons flows predominantly south toward Moss Lake as it integrates with the regional groundwater flow system. The wastewater-plume-extent simulations support the area-contributing-recharge simulations, indicating that there is a possibility, albeit at low probability, that some wastewater could be captured by water-supply wells. Comparison of simulated water-table contours indicate that the lagoons may mound the water table approximately 4 ft, with diminishing levels of mounding outward from the lagoons.
Four scenarios, representing potential alternatives for wastewater management, were simulated (at current discharge rates) to evaluate the potential extent of wastewater in the aquifer and discharge to surface-water bodies associated with each management scenario. Wastewater simulated to infiltrate through a hypothetical diffuser below a wetland south of the current lagoons appears to discharge to the overlying wetland and would likely discharge to Moss Lake as overland flow. Wastewater simulated to discharge to a small lake (Mindy Lake) between Moss and Fence Lakes appears to spread radically over a large area between the lakes. Wastewater simulated to discharge to lagoons south and northeast of the current lagoons also appears to spread radially, but the areas of the aquifer with the highest probability of encountering waste-water contamination would likely be between the lagoons and the nearest lake, where the wastewater would eventually discharge. Probability results for the wastewater-plume-extent scenarios are sensitive to the number of mathematical water particles used to represent infiltrating wastewater and the level of detail in the synthetic grid used for the probability analysis. Thus, probability results from wastewater-plume-extent simulations are qualitative only; however, it is expected that illustrations of relatively high or low probability will be useful as a general guide for decision making. Management problems requiring quantitative estimates of probability are best re-cast into problems evaluating the area that contributes recharge to the location of interest, which is not dependent upon the number of simulated particles or the resolution of a synthetic grid.