Three-dimensional steady-state and transient models of groundwater flow and advective transport in the eastern Snake River Plain aquifer were developed by the U.S. Geological Survey in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Energy. The steady-state and transient flow models cover an area of 1,940 square miles that includes most of the 890 square miles of the Idaho National Laboratory (INL). A 50-year history of waste disposal at the INL has resulted in measurable concentrations of waste contaminants in the eastern Snake River Plain aquifer. Model results can be used in numerical simulations to evaluate the movement of contaminants in the aquifer.
Saturated flow in the eastern Snake River Plain aquifer was simulated using the MODFLOW-2000 groundwater flow model. Steady-state flow was simulated to represent conditions in 1980 with average streamflow infiltration from 1966-80 for the Big Lost River, the major variable inflow to the system. The transient flow model simulates groundwater flow between 1980 and 1995, a period that included a 5-year wet cycle (1982-86) followed by an 8-year dry cycle (1987-94). Specified flows into or out of the active model grid define the conditions on all boundaries except the southwest (outflow) boundary, which is simulated with head-dependent flow. In the transient flow model, streamflow infiltration was the major stress, and was variable in time and location. The models were calibrated by adjusting aquifer hydraulic properties to match simulated and observed heads or head differences using the parameter-estimation program incorporated in MODFLOW-2000. Various summary, regression, and inferential statistics, in addition to comparisons of model properties and simulated head to measured properties and head, were used to evaluate the model calibration.
Model parameters estimated for the steady-state calibration included hydraulic conductivity for seven of nine hydrogeologic zones and a global value of vertical anisotropy. Parameters estimated for the transient calibration included specific yield for five of the seven hydrogeologic zones. The zones represent five rock units and parts of four rock units with abundant interbedded sediment. All estimates of hydraulic conductivity were nearly within 2 orders of magnitude of the maximum expected value in a range that exceeds 6 orders of magnitude. The estimate of vertical anisotropy was larger than the maximum expected value. All estimates of specific yield and their confidence intervals were within the ranges of values expected for aquifers, the range of values for porosity of basalt, and other estimates of specific yield for basalt.
The steady-state model reasonably simulated the observed water-table altitude, orientation, and gradients. Simulation of transient flow conditions accurately reproduced observed changes in the flow system resulting from episodic infiltration from the Big Lost River and facilitated understanding and visualization of the relative importance of historical differences in infiltration in time and space. As described in a conceptual model, the numerical model simulations demonstrate flow that is (1) dominantly horizontal through interflow zones in basalt and vertical anisotropy resulting from contrasts in hydraulic conductivity of various types of basalt and the interbedded sediments, (2) temporally variable due to streamflow infiltration from the Big Lost River, and (3) moving downward downgradient of the INL.
The numerical models were reparameterized, recalibrated, and analyzed to evaluate alternative conceptualizations or implementations of the conceptual model. The analysis of the reparameterized models revealed that little improvement in the model could come from alternative descriptions of sediment content, simulated aquifer thickness, streamflow infiltration, and vertical head distribution on the downgradient boundary. Of the alternative estimates of flow to or from the aquifer, only a 20 percent decrease in