Vulnerability to contamination from manmade and natural sources can be characterized by the groundwater-age distribution measured in a supply well and the associated implications for the source depths of the withdrawn water. Coupled groundwater flow and transport models were developed to simulate the transport of the geochemical age-tracers carbon-14, tritium, and three chlorofluorocarbon species to public-supply wells in Albuquerque, New Mexico. A separate, regional-scale simulation of transport of carbon-14 that used the flow-field computed by a previously documented regional groundwater flow model was calibrated and used to specify the initial concentrations of carbon-14 in the local-scale transport model. Observations of the concentrations of each of the five chemical species, in addition to water-level observations and measurements of intra-borehole flow within a public-supply well, were used to calibrate parameters of the local-scale groundwater flow and transport models.
The calibrated groundwater flow model simulates the mixing of “young” groundwater, which entered the groundwater flow system after 1950 as recharge at the water table, with older resident groundwater that is more likely associated with natural contaminants. Complexity of the aquifer system in the zone of transport between the water table and public-supply well screens was simulated with a geostatistically generated stratigraphic realization based upon observed lithologic transitions at borehole control locations. Because effective porosity was simulated as spatially uniform, the simulated age tracers are more efficiently transported through the portions of the simulated aquifer with relatively higher simulated hydraulic conductivity. Non-pumping groundwater wells with long screens that connect aquifer intervals having different hydraulic heads can provide alternate pathways for contaminant transport that are faster than the advective transport through the aquifer material. Simulation of flow and transport through these wells requires time discretization that adequately represents periods of pumping and non-pumping. The effects of intra-borehole flow are not fully represented in the simulation because it employs seasonal stress periods, which are longer than periods of pumping and non-pumping. Further simulations utilizing daily pumpage data and model stress periods may help quantify the relative effects of intra-borehole versus advective aquifer flow on the transport of contaminants near the public-supply wells. The fraction of young water withdrawn from the studied supply well varies with simulated pumping rates due to changes in the relative contributions to flow from different aquifer intervals.
The advective transport of dissolved solutes from a known contaminant source to the public-supply wells was simulated by using particle-tracking. Because of the transient groundwater flow field, scenarios with alternative contaminant release times result in different simulated-particle fates, most of which are withdrawn from the aquifer at wells that are between the source and the studied supply well. The relatively small effective porosity required to simulate advective transport from the simulated contaminant source to the studied supply well is representative of a preferential pathway and not the predominant aquifer effective porosity that was estimated by the calibration of the model to observed chemical-tracer concentrations.