Determination of dilution factors for discharge of aluminum-containing wastes by public water-supply treatment facilities into lakes and reservoirs in Massachusetts

Scientific Investigations Report 2011-5136
Prepared in cooperation with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection
By: , and 



Dilution of aluminum discharged to reservoirs in filter-backwash effluents at water-treatment facilities in Massachusetts was investigated by a field study and computer simulation. Determination of dilution is needed so that permits for discharge ensure compliance with water-quality standards for aquatic life. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency chronic standard for aluminum, 87 micrograms per liter (μg/L), rather than the acute standard, 750 μg/L, was used in this investigation because the time scales of chronic exposure (days) more nearly match rates of change in reservoir concentrations than do the time scales of acute exposure (hours).

Whereas dilution factors are routinely computed for effluents discharged to streams solely on the basis of flow of the effluent and flow of the receiving stream, dilution determination for effluents discharged to reservoirs is more complex because (1), compared to streams, additional water is available for dilution in reservoirs during low flows as a result of reservoir flushing and storage during higher flows, and (2) aluminum removal in reservoirs occurs by aluminum sedimentation during the residence time of water in the reservoir. Possible resuspension of settled aluminum was not considered in this investigation. An additional concern for setting discharge standards is the substantial concentration of aluminum that can be naturally present in ambient surface waters, usually in association with dissolved organic carbon (DOC), which can bind aluminum and keep it in solution.

A method for dilution determination was developed using a mass-balance equation for aluminum and considering sources of aluminum from groundwater, surface water, and filter-backwash effluents and losses caused by sedimentation, water withdrawal, and spill discharge from the reservoir. The method was applied to 13 reservoirs. Data on aluminum and DOC concentrations in reservoirs and influent water were collected during the fall of 2009. Complete reservoir volume was determined to be available for mixing on the basis of vertical and horizontal aluminum-concentration profiling. Losses caused by settling of aluminum were assumed to be proportional to aluminum concentration and reservoir area. The constant of proportionality, as a function of DOC concentration, was established by simulations in each of five reservoirs that differed in DOC concentration.

In addition to computing dilution factors, the project determined dilution factors that would be protective with the same statistical basis (frequency of exceedance of the chronic standard) as dilutions computed for streams at the 7-day-average 10-year-recurrence annual low flow (the 7Q10). Low-flow dilutions are used for permitting so that receiving waters are protected even at the worst-case flow levels. The low-flow dilution factors that give the same statistical protection are the lowest annual 7-day-average dilution factors with a recurrence of 10 years, termed 7DF10s. Determination of 7DF10 values for reservoirs required that long periods of record be simulated so that dilution statistics could be determined. Dilution statistics were simulated for 13 reservoirs from 1960 to 2004 using U.S. Geological Survey Firm-Yield Estimator software to model reservoir inputs and outputs and present-day values of filter-effluent discharge and aluminum concentration.

Computed settling velocities ranged from 0 centimeters per day (cm/d) at DOC concentrations of 15.5 milligrams per liter (mg/L) to 21.5 cm/d at DOC concentrations of 2.7 mg/L. The 7DF10 values were a function of aluminum effluent discharged. At current (2009) effluent discharge rates, the 7DF10 values varied from 1.8 to 115 among the 13 reservoirs. In most cases, the present-day (2009) discharge resulted in receiving water concentrations that did not exceed the standard at the 7DF10. Exceptions were one reservoir with a very small area and three reservoirs with high concentrations of DOC. Maximum permissible discharges were determined for water-treatment plants by adjusting discharges upward in simulations until the 7DF10 resulted in reservoir concentrations that just met the standard. In terms of aluminum flux, these discharges ranged from 0 to 28 kilograms of aluminum per day.

Suggested Citation

Colman, J.A., Massey, A.J., and Levin, S.B., 2016, Determination of dilution factors for discharge of aluminum-containing wastes by public water-supply treatment facilities into lakes and reservoirs in Massachusetts (ver. 1.1, December 2016): U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2011–5136, 36 p.,

ISSN: 2328-0328 (online)

Study Area

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Determination of dilution factors for discharge of aluminum-containing wastes by public water-supply treatment facilities into lakes and reservoirs in Massachusetts
Series title Scientific Investigations Report
Series number 2011-5136
DOI 10.3133/sir20115136
Edition Version 1.0: Originally posted September 16, 2011; Version 1.1: December 30, 2016
Year Published 2016
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Massachusetts Water Science Center
Description vi, 36 p.
Country United States
State Massachusetts
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Additional Online Files (Y/N) Y
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
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