As part of an environmental investigation at Fort Wingate Depot Activity, New Mexico, the U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, interpreted aqueous geochemical concentrations to better understand the groundwater flow paths and the fate and transport of constituents of concern in the alluvial aquifer underlying the study area. The fine-grained nature of the alluvial matrix creates a highly heterogeneous environment, which adds to the difficulty of characterizing the flow of groundwater and the fate of aqueous constituents of concern. The analysis of the groundwater geochemical data collected in October 2009 provides evidence that is used to identify four groundwater flow paths and their extent in the aquifer and indicates the dominant attenuation processes for the constituents of concern.
The extent and interaction of groundwater flow paths were delineated by the major ion concentrations and their relations to each other. Four areas of groundwater recharge to the study area were identified based on groundwater elevations, hydrogeologic characteristics, and geochemical and isotopic evidence. One source of recharge enters the study area from the saturated alluvial deposits underlying the South Fork of the Puerco River to the north of the study area. A second source of recharge is shown to originate from a leaky cistern containing production water from the San Andres-Glorieta aquifer. The other two sources of recharge are shown to enter the study area from the south: one from an arroyo valley draining an area to the south and one from hill-front recharge that passes under the reported release of perchlorate and explosive constituents. The spatial extent and interaction of groundwater originating from these various sources along identified flow paths affect the persistence and attenuation of constituents of concern.
It was determined that groundwater originating in the area of a former explosives’ wash-out operation and an accidental spill of perchlorate was spatially limited, and that dilution is the primary attenuation process for these constituents. The explosive concentrations of the nitramine 1,3,5-trinitroperhydro-1,3,5-triazine (RDX) and the oxidizer perchlorate both support that determination. Unlike RDX and perchlorate, there were no detectable concentrations of trinitrotoluene (TNT) in the aquifer. Based on the chemical nature of TNT and the redox conditions found in the aquifer, it is interpreted that TNT is lost to irreversible sorption and aerobic degradation. Nitrate was ubiquitous in the alluvial groundwater in October 2009. The nitrate concentrations in wells associated with the explosives’ groundwater flow path indicate attenuation primarily through dilution, similar to that of RDX. The origin of nitrate concentrations in the wells located in the Administration Area is uncertain but may have resulted from the leakage of aging clay sewage pipes that service most of the structures within that area or as a relic of a former hydrologic regime in which water from the washout operation migrated across a broader area. Sufficient data do not exist to definitively identify the location(s) of water discharge in this area, but transpiration from near the Administration Area is supported by the geochemical concentrations.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Geochemical evidence of groundwater flow paths and the fate and transport of constituents of concern in the alluvial aquifer at Fort Wingate Depot Activity, New Mexico, 2009