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Application of hydrogeology and groundwater-age estimates to assess the travel time of groundwater at the site of a landfill to the Mahomet Aquifer, near Clinton, Illinois

Scientific Investigations Report 2015-5159

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and ORCID iD
https://doi.org/10.3133/sir20155159

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Abstract

The U.S. Geological Survey used interpretations of hydrogeologic conditions and tritium-based groundwater age estimates to assess the travel time of groundwater at a landfill site near Clinton, Illinois (the “Clinton site”) where a chemical waste unit (CWU) was proposed to be within the Clinton landfill unit #3 (CLU#3). Glacial deposits beneath the CWU consist predominantly of low-permeability silt- and clay-rich till interspersed with thin (typically less than 2 feet in thickness) layers of more permeable deposits, including the Upper and Lower Radnor Till Sands and the Organic Soil unit. These glacial deposits are about 170 feet thick and overlie the Mahomet Sand Member of the Banner Formation. The Mahomet aquifer is composed of the Mahomet Sand Member and is used for water supply in much of east-central Illinois.

Eight tritium analyses of water from seven wells were used to evaluate the overall age of recharge to aquifers beneath the Clinton site. Groundwater samples were collected from six monitoring wells on or adjacent to the CLU#3 that were open to glacial deposits above the Mahomet aquifer (the upper and lower parts of the Radnor Till Member and the Organic Soil unit) and one proximal production well (approximately 0.5 miles from the CLU#3) that is screened in the Mahomet aquifer. The tritium-based age estimates were computed with a simplifying, piston-flow assumption: that groundwater moves in discrete packets to the sampled interval by advection, without hydrodynamic dispersion or mixing.

Tritium concentrations indicate a recharge age of at least 59 years (pre-1953 recharge) for water sampled from deposits below the upper part of the Radnor Till Member at the CLU#3, with older water expected at progressively greater depth in the tills. The largest tritium concentration from a well sampled by this study (well G53S; 0.32 ± 0.10 tritium units) was in groundwater from a sand deposit in the upper part of the Radnor Till Member; the shallowest permeable unit sampled by this study. That result indicated that nearly all groundwater sampled from well G53S entered the aquifer as recharge before 1953. Tritium was detected in a trace concentration in one sample from a second monitoring well open to the upper part of the Radnor Till Member (well G07S; 0.11 ± 0.09 tritium units), and not detected in samples collected from two monitoring wells open to a sand deposit in the lower part of the Radnor Till Member, from two samples collected from two monitoring wells open to the Organic Soil unit, and in two samples collected from a production well screened in the middle of the Mahomet aquifer (a groundwater sample and a sequential replicate sample). The lack of tritium in five of the six groundwater samples collected from the shallow permeable units beneath CLU#3 site and the two samples from the one Mahomet aquifer well indicates an absence of post-1952 recharge. Groundwater-flow paths that could contribute post-1952 recharge to the lower part of the Radnor Till Member, the Organic Soil unit, or the Mahomet aquifer at the CLU#3 are not indicated by these data.

Hypothetical two-part mixtures of tritium-dead, pre-1953 recharge water and decay-corrected tritium concentrations in post-1952 recharge were computed and compared with tritium analyses in groundwater sampled from monitoring wells at the CLU#3 site to evaluate whether tritium concentrations in groundwater could be represented by mixtures involving some post-1952 recharge. Results from the hypothetical two-part mixtures indicate that groundwater from monitoring well (G53S) was predominantly composed of pre-1953 recharge and that if present, younger, post-1955 recharge, contributed less than 2.5 percent to that sample. The hypothetical two-part mixing results also indicated that very small amounts of post-1952 recharge composing less than about 2.5 percent of the sample volume could not be distinguished in groundwater samples with tritium concentrations less than about 0.15 TU.

The piston-flow based age of recharge determined from the tritium concentration in the groundwater sample from monitoring well G53S yielded an estimated maximum vertical velocity from the land surface to the upper part of the Radnor Till Member of 0.85 feet per year or less. This velocity, ifassumed to apply to the remaining glacial till deposits above the Mahomet aquifer, indicates that recharge flows through the 170 feet of glacial deposits between the base of the proposed chemical waste unit and the top of the Mahomet aquifer in a minimum of 200 years or longer. Analysis of hydraulic data from the site, constrained by a tritium-age based maximum groundwater velocity estimate, computed minimum estimates of effective porosity that range from about 0.021 to 0.024 for the predominantly till deposits above the Mahomet aquifer.

Estimated rates of transport of recharge from land surface to the Mahomet aquifer for the CLU#3 site computed using the Darcy velocity equation with site-specific data were about 260 years or longer. The Darcy velocity-based estimates were computed using values that were based on tritium data, estimates of vertical velocity and effective porosity and available site-specific data. Solution of the Darcy velocity equation indicated that maximum vertical groundwater velocities through the deposits above the aquifer were 0.41 or 0.61 feet per year, depending on the site-specific values of vertical hydraulic conductivity (laboratory triaxial test values) and effective porosity used for the computation. The resulting calculated minimum travel times for groundwater to flow from the top of the Berry Clay Member (at the base of the proposed chemical waste unit) to the top of the Mahomet aquifer ranged from about 260 to 370 years, depending on the velocity value used in the calculation. In comparison, plausible travel times calculated using vertical hydraulic conductivity values from a previously published regional groundwater flow model were either slightly less than or longer than those calculated using site data and ranged from 230 to 580 years.

Tritium data from 1996 to 2011 USGS regional sampling of groundwater from domestic wells in the confined part of the Mahomet aquifer—which are 2.5 to about 40 miles from the Clinton site—were compared with site-specific data from a production well at the Clinton site. Tritium-based groundwater-age estimates indicated predominantly pre- 1953 recharge dates for USGS and other prior regional samples of groundwater from domestic wells in the Mahomet aquifer. These results agreed with the tritium-based, pre-1953 recharge age estimated for a groundwater sample and a sequential replicate sample from a production well in the confined part of the Mahomet aquifer beneath the Clinton site.

The regional tritium-based groundwater age estimates also were compared with pesticide detections in samples from distal domestic wells in the USGS regional network that are about 2.5 to 40 miles from the Clinton site to identify whether very small amounts of post-1952 recharge have in places reached confined parts of the Mahomet aquifer at locations other than the Clinton site in an approximately 2,000 square mile area of the Mahomet aquifer. Very small amounts of post-1952 recharge were defined in this analysis as less than about 2.5 percent of the total recharge contributing to a groundwater sample, based on results from the two-part mixing analysis of tritium data from the Clinton site. Pesticide-based groundwater-age estimates based on 22 detections of pesticides (13 of these detections were estimated concentrations), including atrazine, deethylatrazine (2-Chloro-4-isopropylamino-6-amino- s-triazine), cyanazine, diazinon, metolachlor, molinate, prometon, and trifluralin in groundwater samples from 10 domestic wells 2.5 to about 40 miles distant from the Clinton site indicate that very small amounts of post-1956 to post-1992 recharge can in places reach the confined part of the Mahomet aquifer in other parts of central Illinois. The relative lack of tritium in these samples indicate that the amounts of post-1956 to post-1992 recharge contributing to the 10 domestic wells were a very small part of the overall older groundwater sampled from those wells.

The flow process by which very small amounts of pesticide-bearing groundwater reached the screened intervals of the 10 domestic wells could not be distinguished between well-integrity related infiltration and natural hydrogeologic features. Potential explanations include: (1) infiltration through man-made avenues in or along the well, (2) flow of very small amounts of post-1956 to post-1992 recharge through sparsely distributed natural permeable aspects of the glacial till and diluted by mixing with older groundwater, or (3) a combination of both processes.

Presuming the domestic wells sampled by the USGS in 1996–2011 in the regional study of the confined part of the Mahomet aquifer are adequately sealed and produce groundwater that is representative of aquifer conditions, the regional tritium and pesticide-based groundwater-age results indicate substantial heterogeneity in the glacial stratigraphy above the Mahomet aquifer. The pesticide-based groundwater-age estimates from the domestic wells distant from the Clinton site also indicate that parts of the Mahomet aquifer with the pesticide detections can be susceptible to contaminant sources at the land surface. The regional pesticide and tritium results from the domestic wells further indicate that a potential exists for possible contaminants from land surface to be transported through the glacial drift deposits that confine the Mahomet aquifer in other parts of central Illinois at faster rates than those computed for recharge at the Clinton site, including CLU#3. This analysis indicates the potential value of sub-microgram-per-liter level concentrations of land-use derived indicators of modern recharge to indicate the presence of very small amounts of modern, post-1952 age recharge in overall older, pre-1953 age groundwater.

Suggested Citation

Kay, R.T., and Buszka, P.M., 2016, Application of hydrogeology and groundwater-age estimates to assess the travel time of groundwater at the site of a landfill to the Mahomet Aquifer, near Clinton, Illinois, with a section on Regional Indications of Recharge to the Mahomet Aquifer from Previously Collected Tritium and Pesticide Data, by Buszka, P.M. and Morrow, W.S.: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2015–5159, 54 p., http://dx.doi.org/10.3133/sir20155159.

ISSN: 2328-0328 (online)

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Methods of Data Collection and Analysis for the Clinton Site
  • Hydrogeology, Estimates of Groundwater Age, and Assessment of Groundwater Travel Time at the Clinton Site
  • Summary of Hydrogeology and Recharge Interpretations from Clinton Site Data
  • Regional Indications of Recharge to the Mahomet Aquifer from Previously Collected Tritium and Pesticide Data
  • Data Limitations
  • Summary and Conclusions
  • References Cited

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Report
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Title:
Application of hydrogeology and groundwater-age estimates to assess the travel time of groundwater at the site of a landfill to the Mahomet Aquifer, near Clinton, Illinois
Series title:
Scientific Investigations Report
Series number:
2015-5159
DOI:
10.3133/sir20155159
Year Published:
2016
Language:
English
Publisher:
U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Reston, VA
Contributing office(s):
Illinois Water Science Center
Description:
vii, 54 p.
Country:
United States
State:
Illinois
City:
Clinton
Other Geospatial:
Mahomet Aquifer
Online Only (Y/N):
Y
Additional Online Files (Y/N):
N