Environmental age tracers have been used in various ways to help assess vulnerability of drinking-water production wells to contamination. The most appropriate approach will depend on the information that is available and that which is desired. To understand how the well will respond to changing nonpoint-source contaminant inputs at the water table, some representation of the distribution of groundwater ages in the well is needed. Such information for production wells is sparse and difficult to obtain, especially in areas lacking detailed field studies. In this study, age distributions derived from detailed groundwater-flow models with advective particle tracking were compared with those generated from lumped-parameter models to examine conditions in which estimates from simpler, less resource-intensive lumped-parameter models could be used in place of estimates from particle-tracking models. In each of four contrasting hydrogeologic settings in the USA, particle-tracking and lumped-parameter models yielded roughly similar age distributions and largely indistinguishable contaminant trends when based on similar conceptual models and calibrated to similar tracer data. Although model calibrations and predictions were variably affected by tracer limitations and conceptual ambiguities, results illustrated the importance of full age distributions, rather than apparent tracer ages or model mean ages, for trend analysis and forecasting.
Additional publication details
Comparison of particle-tracking and lumped-parameter age-distribution models for evaluating vulnerability of production wells to contamination