Radiochemical and chemical wastewater discharged since 1952 to infiltration ponds, evaporation ponds, and disposal wells at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) has affected water quality in the Snake River Plain aquifer underlying the INL. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Energy, maintains ground-water monitoring networks at the INL to determine hydrologic trends, and to delineate the movement of radiochemical and chemical wastes in the aquifer. This report presents an analysis of water-level and water-quality data collected from wells in the USGS ground-water monitoring networks during 1999-2001.
Water in the Snake River Plain aquifer moves principally through fractures and interflow zones in basalt, generally flows southwestward, and eventually discharges at springs along the Snake River. The aquifer is recharged principally from infiltration of irrigation water, infiltration of streamflow, ground-water inflow from adjoining mountain drainage basins, and infiltration of precipitation. Water levels in wells rose in the northern and west-central parts of the INL by 1 to 3 feet, and declined in the southwestern parts of the INL by up to 4 feet during 1999-2001.
Detectable concentrations of radiochemical constituents in water samples from wells in the Snake River Plain aquifer at the INL generally decreased or remained constant during 1999-2001. Decreases in concentrations were attributed to decreased rates of radioactive-waste disposal, radioactive decay, changes in waste-disposal methods, and dilution from recharge. Tritium concentrations in water samples decreased as much as 8.3 picocuries per milliliter (pCi/mL) during 1999-2001, ranging from 0.43?0.14 to 13.6?0.6 pCi/mL in October 2001. Tritium concentrations in five wells near the Idaho Nuclear Technology and Engineering Center (INTEC) increased a few picocuries per milliliter from October 2000 to October 2001. Strontium-90 concentrations decreased or remained constant during 1999-2001, ranging from 2.1?0.6 to 42.4?1.4 pCi/L in October 2001. During 1999-2001, concentrations of cesium-137, plutonium-238, and plutonium-239, -240 (undivided) were less than the reporting level in water samples from all wells sampled at the INL. The concentration of americium-241 in one sample was 0.003?0.001 pCi/L, the reporting level for that constituent. Cobalt-60 was not detected in any samples collected during 1999-2001.
Changes in detectable concentrations of nonradioactive chemical constituents in water from the Snake River Plain aquifer at the INL varied during 1999-2001. In October 2001, water from one well south of the Reactor Technology Complex (RTC) [known as the Test Reactor Area (TRA) until 2005] contained 139 micrograms per liter (?g/L) of chromium, a decrease from the concentration of 168 ?g/L detected in October 1998. Other water samples contained from less than 16.7 to 21.3 ?g/L of chromium. In October 2001, concentrations of sodium in water samples from most of the wells in the southern part of the INL were larger than the background concentration of 10 mg/L, but were similar to or slightly less than October 1998 concentrations. The largest sodium concentration was 75 milligrams per liter (mg/L) in water from well USGS 113.
In 2001, chloride concentrations in most water samples from the INTEC and the Central Facilities Area (CFA) exceeded ambient concentrations of 10 and 20 mg/L, respectively. Chloride concentrations in water from wells near the RTC were less than 20 mg/L. At the Radioactive Waste Management Complex (RWMC), chloride concentrations in water from wells USGS 88, 89, and 120 were 81, 40, and 23 mg/L, respectively. Concentrations of chloride in all other wells near the RWMC were less than 19 mg/L. During 2001, concentrations of sulfate in water from two wells near the RTC, two wells near the RWMC, and one well near the CFA exceeded 40 mg/L, the estimated background concentration of sulfate in the Snake River