Contaminants introduced into the subsurface of the Nevada Test Site at Rainier Mesa and Shoshone Mountain by underground nuclear testing are of concern to the U.S. Department of Energy and regulators responsible for protecting human health and safety. Although contaminants were introduced into low-permeability rocks above the regional flow system, the potential for contaminant movement away from the underground test areas and into the accessible environment is greatest by ground-water transport. The primary hydrologic control on this transport is evaluated and examined through a series of contour maps developed to represent the water-level distribution within each of the major aquifers underlying the area. Aquifers were identified and their extents delineated by merging and analyzing multiple hydrostratigraphic framework models developed by other investigators from existing geologic information. The contoured water-level distribution in each major aquifer was developed from a detailed evaluation and assessment of available water-level measurements. Multiple spreadsheets that accompany this report provide pertinent water-level and geologic data by well or drill hole.
Aquifers are mapped, presented, and discussed in general terms as being one of three aquifer types?volcanic aquifer, upper carbonate aquifer, or lower carbonate aquifer. Each of these aquifer types was subdivided and mapped as independent continuous and isolated aquifers, based on the continuity of its component rock. Ground-water flow directions, as related to the transport of test-generated contaminants, were developed from water-level contours and are presented and discussed for each of the continuous aquifers. Contoured water-level altitudes vary across the study area and range from more than 5,000 feet in the volcanic aquifer beneath a recharge area in the northern part of the study area to less than 2,450 feet in the lower carbonate aquifer in the southern part of the study area. Variations in water-level altitudes within any single continuous aquifer range from a few hundred feet in a lower carbonate aquifer to just more than 1,100 feet in a volcanic aquifer. Flow directions throughout the study area are dominantly southward with minor eastward or westward deviations. Primary exceptions are westward flow in the northern part of the volcanic aquifer and eastward flow in the eastern part of the lower carbonate aquifer. Northward flow in the upper and lower carbonate aquifers in the northern part of the study area is possible but cannot be substantiated because data are lacking.
Interflow between continuous aquifers is evaluated and mapped to define major flow paths. These flow paths delineate tributary flow systems, which converge to form the regional ground-water flow system. The implications of these tributary flow paths in controlling transport away from the underground test areas at Rainier Mesa and Shoshone Mountain are discussed. The obvious data gaps contributing to uncertainties in the delineation of aquifers and development of water-level contours are identified and evaluated.