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 and perched-water zones underlying the INL. The U.S. Geological Survey, 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 and in perched-water zones. This report presents an analysis of water-level and water-quality data collected from aquifer and perched-water wells in the USGS ground-water monitoring networks during 2002-05.
Water in the Snake River Plain aquifer primarily moves through fractures and interflow zones in basalt, generally flows southwestward, and eventually discharges at springs along the Snake River. The aquifer is recharged primarily from infiltration of irrigation water, infiltration of streamflow, ground-water inflow from adjoining mountain drainage basins, and infiltration of precipitation.
From March-May 2001 to March-May 2005, water levels in wells declined throughout the INL area. The declines ranged from about 3 to 8 feet in the southwestern part of the INL, about 10 to 15 feet in the west central part of the INL, and about 6 to 11 feet in the northern part of the INL. Water levels in perched water wells declined also, with the water level dropping below the bottom of the pump in many wells during 2002-05.
For radionuclides, concentrations that equal 3s, wheres s is the sample standard deviation, represent a measurement at the minimum detectable concentration, or 'reporting level'. 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 2002-05. Decreases in concentrations were attributed to decreased rates of radioactive-waste disposal, radioactive decay, changes in waste-disposal methods, and dilution from recharge and underflow. In October 2005, reportable concentrations of tritium in ground water ranged from 0.51+or-0.12 to 11.5+or-0.6 picocuries per milliliter and the tritium plume extended south-southwestward in the general direction of ground-water flow. Tritium concentrations in water from several wells southwest of the Idaho Nuclear Technology and Engineering Center (INTEC) decreased or remained constant as they had during 1998-2001, with the exception of well USGS 47, which increased a few picocuries per milliliter. Most wells completed in shallow perched water at the Reactor Technology Complex (RTC) were dry during 2002---05. Tritium concentrations in deep perched water exceeded the reporting level in nine wells at the RTC. The tritium concentration in water from one deep perched water well exceeded the reporting level at the INTEC. Concentrations of strontium-90 in water from 14 of 34 wells sampled during October 2005 exceeded the reporting level. Concentrations ranged from 2.2+or-0.7 to 33.1+or-1.2 picocuries per liter. However, concentrations from most wells remained relatively constant or decreased since 1989. Strontium-90 has not been detected within the eastern Snake River Plain aquifer beneath the RTC partly because of the exclusive use of waste-disposal ponds and lined evaporation ponds rather than the disposal well for radioactive-wastewater disposal at RTC. At the RTC, strontium-90 concentrations in water from six wells completed in deep perched ground water exceeded the reporting level during 2002-05. At the INTEC, the reporting level was exceeded in water from three wells completed in deep perched ground water. During 2002-05, concentrations of plutonium-238, and plutonium-239, -240 (undivided), and americium-241 were less than the reporting level in water samples from all wells sampled at the INL. During 2002-05, concentrations of cesium-137 in water from all wells sa