Since 1952, radiochemical and chemical wastewater discharged to infiltration ponds (also called percolation ponds), evaporation ponds, and disposal wells at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) has affected water quality in the eastern Snake River Plain aquifer and perched groundwater zones underlying the INL. The U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Energy, maintains groundwater 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 groundwater zones. This report presents an analysis of water-level and water-quality data collected from aquifer and perched groundwater wells in the USGS groundwater monitoring networks during 2006-08.
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 primarily is recharged from infiltration of irrigation water, infiltration of streamflow, groundwater inflow from adjoining mountain drainage basins, and infiltration of precipitation.
From March-May 2005 to March-May 2008, water levels in wells generally remained constant or rose slightly in the southwestern corner of the INL. Water levels declined in the central and northern parts of the INL. The declines ranged from about 1 to 3 feet in the central part of the INL, to as much as 9 feet in the northern part of the INL. Water levels in perched groundwater wells around the Advanced Test Reactor Complex (ATRC) also declined.
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 2006-08. 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 April or October 2008, reportable concentrations of tritium in groundwater ranged from 810 ? 70 to 8,570 ? 190 picocuries per liter (pCi/L), and the tritium plume extended south-southwestward in the general direction of groundwater flow. Tritium concentrations in water from wells completed in shallow perched groundwater at the ATRC were less than the reporting levels. Tritium concentrations in deep perched groundwater exceeded the reporting level in 11 wells during at least one sampling event during 2006-08 at the ATRC. Tritium concentrations from one or more zones in each well were reportable in water samples collected at various depths in six wells equipped with multi-level WestbayTM packer sampling systems.
Concentrations of strontium-90 in water from 24 of 52 aquifer wells sampled during April or October 2008 exceeded the reporting level. Concentrations ranged from 2.2 ? 0.7 to 32.7 ? 1.2 pCi/L. Strontium-90 has not been detected within the eastern Snake River Plain aquifer beneath the ATRC partly because of the exclusive use of waste-disposal ponds and lined evaporation ponds rather than using the disposal well for radioactive-wastewater disposal at ATRC. At the ATRC, the strontium-90 concentration in water from one well completed in shallow perched groundwater was less than the reporting level. During at least one sampling event during 2006-08, concentrations of strontium-90 in water from nine wells completed in deep perched groundwater at the ATRC were greater than reporting levels. Concentrations ranged from 2.1?0.7 to 70.5?1.8 pCi/L. At the Idaho Nuclear Technology and Engineering Center (INTEC), the reporting level was exceeded in water from two wells completed in deep perched groundwater. During 2006-08, concentrations of cesium-137, plutonium-238, and plutonium-239, -240 (undivided), and americium-241 were less than the reporting level in water samples from all wells and all zones in wells equipped with multi-level WestbayTM packer sampling systems
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
An update of hydrologic conditions and distribution of selected constituents in water, Snake River Plain aquifer and perched groundwater zones, Idaho National Laboratory, Idaho, emphasis 2006-08