In 2001, the U.S. Geological Survey, as part of the National Water Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program, initiated a topical study of Transport of Anthropogenic and Natural Contaminants (TANC) to PSW (public-supply wells). Local-scale and regional-scale TANC study areas were delineated within selected NAWQA study units for intensive study of processes effecting transport of contaminants to PSWs. This report describes results from a local-scale TANC study area at York, Nebraska, within the High Plains aquifer, including the hydrogeology and geochemistry of a 108-square-kilometer study area that contains the zone of contribution to a PSW selected for study (study PSW), and describes factors controlling the transport of selected anthropogenic and natural contaminants to PSWs.
Within the local-scale TANC study area, the High Plains aquifer is approximately 75 m (meter) thick, and includes an unconfined aquifer, an upper confining unit, an upper confined aquifer, and a lower confining unit with lower confined sand lenses (units below the upper confining unit are referred to as confined aquifers) in unconsolidated alluvial and glacial deposits overlain by loess and underlain by Cretaceous shale. From northwest to southeast, land use in the local-scale TANC study area changes from predominantly irrigated agricultural land to residential and commercial land in the small community of York (population approximately 8,100).
For the purposes of comparing water chemistry, wells were classified by degree of aquifer confinement (unconfined and confined), depth in the unconfined aquifer (shallow and deep), land use (urban and agricultural), and extent of mixing in wells in the confined aquifer with water from the unconfined aquifer (mixed and unmixed). Oxygen (delta 18O) and hydrogen (delta D) stable isotopic values indicated a clear isotopic contrast between shallow wells in the unconfined aquifer (hereinafter, unconfined shallow wells) and most monitoring wells in the confined aquifers (hereinafter, confined unmixed wells). Delta 18O and delta D values for a minority of wells in the confined aquifers were intermediate between those for the unconfined shallow wells and those for the confined unmixed wells. These intermediate values were consistent with mixing of water from unconfined and confined aquifers (hereinafter, confined mixed wells). Oxidation-reduction conditions were primarily oxic in the unconfined aquifer and variably reducing in the confined aquifers.
Trace amounts of volatile organic compounds (VOC), particularly tetrachloroethylene (PCE) and trichloroethylene (TCE), were widely detected in unconfined shallow urban wells and indicated the presence of young urban recharge waters in most confined mixed wells. The presence of degradation products of agricultural pesticides (acetochlor and alachlor) in some confined mixed wells suggests that some fraction of the water in these wells also was the result of recharge in agricultural areas. In the unconfined aquifer, age-tracer data (chlorofluorocarbon and sulfur hexafluoride data, and tritium to helium-3 ratios) fit a piston-flow model, with apparent recharge ages ranging from 7 to 48 years and generally increasing with depth. Age-tracer data for the confined aquifers were consistent with mixing of 'old' water, not containing modern tracers recharged in the last 60 years, and exponentially-mixed 'young' water with modern tracers. Confined unmixed wells contained less than (<) 3 percent (%) young water mixed with a much larger fraction greater than or equal to (>=) 97% of old water. Confined mixed wells contained >30% young water and mean ages ranged from 12 to 14 years. Median concentrations of nitrate (as nitrogen, hereinafter, nitrate-N) were 17.3 and 16.0 mg/L (milligram per liter) in unconfined shallow urban and agricultural wells, respectively, indicating a range of likely nitrate sources. Septic systems are most numerous near the edge of the urban area and appear to be