As part of a national analysis of the effects of land use on ground-water quality for the National Water-Quality Assessment Program, the U.S. Geological Survey sampled wells along a flow system in surficial glacial aquifers in the northwestern part of the Twin Cities metropolitan area during 1997 and 1998. In addition, a reconnaissance steady-state ground-water model was developed to estimate flowpaths and dates of ground-water recharge using a particle-tracking routine.
Sediment samples collected during drilling had high horizontal hydraulic conductivities (ranging from about 3.1 to about 190 feet per day, based on sediment-size analysis of well cuttings), small organic carbon concentrations (ranging from less than 0.2 to 160 grams per kilogram), and pH values that were mostly alkaline (ranging from 4.9 to 8.2).
Water samples were analyzed for physical properties, major ions, iron, manganese, nutrients, organic carbon, radon, pesticides, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), chlorofluorocarbons, tritium, and isotopes of nitrogen, hydrogen, and oxygen. Most of the water samples had small dissolved-oxygen concentrations (less than 1 milligram per liter). Calcium, magnesium, sodium, bicarbonate, sulfate, and chloride were the primary dissolved constituents in water samples. Nitrite plus nitrate as nitrogen (nitrate) concentrations were less than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) Maximum Contaminant Level of 10 mg/L. Nitrogen isotope ratios indicated that the sources of nitrate primarily were soils, animal waste, or denitrification that increased nitrogen isotope ratios in nitrate.
Small concentrations of pesticides were detected in the shallow parts of the aquifer. The herbicide prometon was the most frequently detected pesticide. Herbicides applied to control grasses and weeds in corn (atrazine, simazine, and metolachlor) also were frequently detected in water samples. All pesticide and VOCs detected were below USEPA Maximum Contaminant Levels or Health Advisory Limits. Chlorofluorocarbon compounds and tritium concentrations were used to estimate dates of recharge of ground-water samples. In general, shallower ground-water samples were more recently recharged although most water sampled from the aquifer was recharged after 1955.
Although land use had substantial effects on ground-water quality, the distribution of contaminants in the aquifer also is affected by complex combinations of factors and processes that include sources of natural and anthropogenic contaminants, three-dimensional advective flow, physical and hydrologic settings, age and evolution of ground water, and transformation of chemical compounds along the flow system. Compounds such as nitrate and dissolved oxygen were greatest in water samples from the upgradient end of the flow system and near the water table. Specific conductance and dissolved solids increased along the flow system and with depth due to increase in residence time in the flow system and dissolution of aquifer materials.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Water-quality assessment of part of the Upper Mississippi River basin, Minnesota and Wisconsin - Ground-water quality along a flow system in the Twin Cities metropolitan area, Minnesota, 1997-98