Ground-water contamination at Wurtsmith Air Force Base, Michigan

Water-Resources Investigations Report 83-4002

Prepared in cooperation with the U.S. Air Force
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A sand and gravel aquifer of glacial origin underlies Wurtsmith Air Force Base in northeastern lower Michigan. The aquifer overlies a thick clay layer at an average depth of 65 feet. The water table is about 10 feet below land surface in the western part of the Base and about 25 feet below land surface in the eastern part. A ground-water divide cuts diagonally across the Base from northwest to southeast. South of the divide, ground water flows to the Au Sable River; north of the divide, it flows to Van Etten Creek and Van Etten Lake. Mathematical models were used to aid in calculating rates of groundwater flow. Rates range from about 0.8 feet per day in the eastern part of the Base to about 0.3 feet per day in the western part. Models also were used as an aid in making decisions regarding purging of contaminated water from the aquifer.

In 1977, trichloroethylene was detected in the Air Force Base water-supply system. It had leaked from a buried storage tank near Building 43 in the southeastern part of the Base and moved northeastward under the influence of the natural ground-water gradient and the pumping of Base water-supply wells. In the most highly contaminated part of the plume, concentrations are greater than 1,000 micrograms per liter. Current purge pumping is removing some of the trichloroethylene, and seems to have arrested its eastward movement. Pumping of additional purge wells could increase the rate of removal.

Trichloroethylene has also been detected in ground water in the vicinity of the Base alert apron, where a plume from an unknown source extends northeastward off Base. A smaller, less well-defined area of contamination also occurs just north of the larger plume. Trichloroethylene, identified near the waste-treatment plant, seepage lagoons, and the northern landfill area, is related to activities and operations in these areas. Dichloroethylene and trichloroethylene occur in significant quantities westward of Building 43, upgradient from the major spill site. Benzene, indicative of ground-water contamination by a fuel substance, occurs in an area northeast of the bulk-fuel storage area. Analysis of a variety of chemical, physical, and biologic characteristics of water on the Base indicate that there is a measurable affect on ground-water quality from landfills, the seepage lagoon, and the waste-treatment plant.

Study Area

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Ground-water contamination at Wurtsmith Air Force Base, Michigan
Series title:
Water-Resources Investigations Report
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Lansing, MI
Contributing office(s):
Michigan Water Science Center
Document: ix, 93 p.; Plate: 41.58 x 35.42 inches
United States
Other Geospatial:
Wurtsmith Air Force Base