An Update of Hydrologic Conditions and Distribution of Selected Constituents in Water, Eastern Snake River Plain Aquifer and Perched Groundwater Zones, Idaho National Laboratory, Idaho, Emphasis 2016–18

Scientific Investigations Report 2019-5149
DOE/ID-22251
Prepared in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Energy
By: , and 

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Abstract

Since 1952, wastewater discharged to infiltration ponds (also called percolation ponds) and disposal wells at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) has affected water quality in the eastern Snake River Plain (ESRP) aquifer and perched groundwater zones underlying the INL. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), 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 the ESRP aquifer and perched groundwater wells in the USGS groundwater monitoring networks during 2016–18.

From March–May 2015 to March–May 2018, water levels in wells completed in the ESRP aquifer declined in the northern part of the INL and increased in the southwestern part. Water-level decreases ranged from 0.5 to 3.0 feet (ft) in the northern part of the INL and increases ranged from 0.5 to 3.0 ft in the southwestern part.

Detectable concentrations of radiochemical constituents in water samples from wells in the ESRP aquifer at the INL generally decreased or remained constant during 2016–18. Decreases in concentrations were attributed to radioactive decay, changes in waste-disposal methods, and dilution from recharge and underflow.

In 2018, concentrations of tritium in water samples collected from 46 of 111 aquifer wells were greater than the reporting level of three times the sample standard deviation and ranged from 260±50 to 5,100±190 picocuries per liter (pCi/L). Tritium concentrations in water from 10 wells completed in deep perched groundwater above the ESRP aquifer near the Advanced Test Reactor (ATR) Complex generally were greater than or equal to the reporting level during at least one sampling event during 2016–18, and concentrations ranged from 150 ±50 to 12,900 ±200 pCi/L.

Concentrations of strontium-90 in water from 17 of 60 ESRP aquifer wells sampled during April or October 2018 exceeded the reporting level, ranging from 2.2±0.7 to 363±19 pCi/L. Strontium-90 was not detected in the ESRP aquifer beneath the ATR Complex. During at least one sampling event during 2016–18, concentrations of strontium-90 in water from eight wells completed in deep perched groundwater above the ESRP aquifer at the ATR Complex equaled or exceeded the reporting levels, and concentrations ranged from 0.57±0.17 to 34.3±1.2 pCi/L.

During 2016–18, concentrations of cesium-137 were less than the reporting level in all but one ESRP aquifer well, and concentrations of plutonium-238, -239, and -240 (undivided), and americium-241 were less than the reporting level in water samples from all ESRP aquifer wells.

In April 2009, the dissolved chromium concentration in water from one ESRP aquifer well, USGS 65, south of the ATR Complex equaled the maximum contaminant level (MCL) of 100 micrograms per liter (μg/L). In April 2018, the concentration of chromium in water from that well had decreased to 76.0 μg/L, less than the MCL. Concentrations in water samples from 62 other ESRP aquifer wells sampled ranged from less than 0.6 to 21.6 μg/L. During 2016–18, dissolved chromium was detected in water from all wells completed in deep perched groundwater above the ESRP aquifer at the ATR Complex, and concentrations ranged from 4.2 to 98.8 μg/L.

In 2018, concentrations of sodium in water from most ESRP aquifer wells in the southern part of the INL were greater than the western tributary background concentration of 8.3 milligrams per liter (mg/L). After the new percolation ponds were put into service in 2002 southwest of the Idaho Nuclear Technology and Engineering Center (INTEC), concentrations of sodium in water samples from the Rifle Range well increased steadily until 2008, when concentrations generally began decreasing. The increases and decreases were attributed to disposal variability in the new percolation ponds. During 2016–18, dissolved sodium concentrations in water from 18 wells completed in deep perched groundwater above the ESRP aquifer at the ATR Complex ranged from 6.37 to 143 mg/L.

In 2018, concentrations of chloride in most water samples from ESRP aquifer wells south of the INTEC and at the Central Facilities Area exceeded the background concentrations. Chloride concentrations in water from wells south of the INTEC generally have decreased since 2002 when chloride disposal to the old percolation ponds was discontinued. After the new percolation ponds southwest of the INTEC were put into service in 2002, concentrations of chloride in water samples from one well rose steadily until 2008 then began decreasing. During 2016–18, dissolved chloride concentrations in deep perched groundwater above the ESRP aquifer from 18 wells at the ATR Complex ranged from 3.89 to 176 mg/L.

In 2018, sulfate concentrations in water samples from ESRP aquifer wells in the south-central part of the INL exceeded the background concentration of sulfate and ranged from 22 to 151 mg/L. The greater-than-background concentrations in water from these wells probably resulted from sulfate disposal at the ATR Complex infiltration ponds or the old INTEC percolation ponds. In 2018, sulfate concentrations in water samples from wells near the Radioactive Waste Management Complex (RWMC) mostly were greater than background concentrations and could have resulted from well construction techniques and (or) waste disposal at the RWMC or the ATR complex. The maximum dissolved sulfate concentration in shallow perched groundwater above the ESRP aquifer near the ATR Complex was 215 mg/L in well CWP 3 in April 2016. During 2018, dissolved sulfate concentrations in water from wells completed in deep perched groundwater above the ESRP aquifer near the cold-waste ponds at the ATR Complex ranged from 65.8 to 171 mg/L.

In 2018, concentrations of nitrate in water from most ESRP aquifer wells at and near the INTEC exceeded the western tributary background concentration of 0.655 mg/L. Concentrations of nitrate in wells southwest of the INTEC and farther away from the influence of disposal areas and the Big Lost River show a general decrease in nitrate concentration through time. Two wells south of the INTEC show increasing trends that could be the result of wastewater beneath the INTEC tank farm being mobilized to the aquifer.

During 2016–18, water samples from several ESRP aquifer wells were collected and analyzed for volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Sixteen VOCs were detected. At least 1 and as many as 7 VOCs were detected in water samples from 15 wells. The primary VOCs detected include carbon tetrachloride, trichloromethane, tetrachloroethene, 1,1,1-trichloroethane, and trichloroethene. In 2016–18, concentrations for all VOCs were less than their respective MCLs for drinking water, except carbon tetrachloride in water from two wells and trichloroethene in one well.

During 2016–18, variability and bias were evaluated from 37 replicate and 15 blank quality-assurance samples. Results from replicate analyses were investigated to evaluate sample variability. Constituents with acceptable reproducibility were major ions, trace elements, nutrients, and VOCs. All radiochemical constituents had acceptable reproducibility except for gross alpha- and beta-particle radioactivity. The gross alpha- and beta-particle radioactivity samples that did not meet reproducibility criteria had low concentrations. Bias from sample contamination was evaluated from equipment, field, and source-solution blanks. Cadmium had a concentration slightly greater than its reporting level in a source-solution blank, and chloride and ammonia had concentrations that were slightly greater than their respective reporting levels in field and equipment blanks. Subtracting concentrations of chloride and ammonia in field blanks from the concurrently collected equipment blank indicates that adjusted concentrations for chloride and ammonia in the equipment blanks were less than their respective reporting levels. Therefore, no sample bias was observed for any of the sample periods.

Suggested Citation

Bartholomay, R.C., Maimer, N.V., Rattray, G.W., and Fisher, J.C., 2020, An update of hydrologic conditions and distribution of selected constituents in water, Eastern Snake River Plain Aquifer and perched groundwater zones, Idaho National Laboratory, Idaho, emphasis 2016–18: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2019–5149, 82 p., https://doi.org/10.3133/sir20195149.

ISSN: 2328-0328 (online)

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Groundwater Monitoring Networks
  • Waste-Disposal Sites at the Idaho National Laboratory
  • Hydrologic Conditions
  • Methods and Quality Assurance of Water Sample Analyses
  • Selected Physical Properties of Water and Radiochemical and Chemical Constituents in the Eastern Snake River Plain Aquifer
  • Selected Radiochemical and Chemical Constituents in Perched Groundwater at the Advanced Test Reactor Complex, Idaho Nuclear Technology and Engineering Center, and Radioactive Waste Management Complex
  • Summary
  • References Cited

Additional publication details

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title An update of hydrologic conditions and distribution of selected constituents in water, Eastern Snake River Plain Aquifer and perched groundwater zones, Idaho National Laboratory, Idaho, emphasis 2016–18
Series title Scientific Investigations Report
Series number 2019-5149
DOI 10.3133/sir20195149
Year Published 2019
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Idaho Water Science Center
Description x, 82 p.
Country United States
State Idaho
Other Geospatial Idaho National Laboratory
Online Only (Y/N) Y
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