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Scientific Investigations Report 2013–5184

Prepared in cooperation with the Jackson Hole Airport Board

Hydrogeology and Water Quality in the Snake River Alluvial Aquifer at Jackson Hole Airport, Jackson, Wyoming, Water Years 2011 and 2012

By Peter R. Wright

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (3.18 MB)Abstract

The hydrogeology and water quality of the Snake River alluvial aquifer at the Jackson Hole Airport in northwest Wyoming was studied by the U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Jackson Hole Airport Board, during water years 2011 and 2012 as part of a followup to a previous baseline study during September 2008 through June 2009. Hydrogeologic conditions were characterized using data collected from 19 Jackson Hole Airport wells. Groundwater levels are summarized in this report and the direction of groundwater flow, hydraulic gradients, and estimated groundwater velocity rates in the Snake River alluvial aquifer underlying the study area are presented. Analytical results of groundwater samples collected from 10 wells during water years 2011 and 2012 are presented and summarized.

The water table at Jackson Hole Airport was lowest in early spring and reached its peak in July or August, with an increase of 12.5 to 15.5 feet between April and July 2011. Groundwater flow was predominantly horizontal but generally had the hydraulic potential for downward flow. Groundwater flow within the Snake River alluvial aquifer at the airport was from the northeast to the west-southwest, with horizontal velocities estimated to be about 25 to 68 feet per day. This range of velocities slightly is broader than the range determined in the previous study and likely is due to variability in the local climate. The travel time from the farthest upgradient well to the farthest downgradient well was approximately 52 to 142 days. This estimate only describes the average movement of groundwater, and some solutes may move at a different rate than groundwater through the aquifer.

The quality of the water in the alluvial aquifer generally was considered good. Water from the alluvial aquifer was fresh, hard to very hard, and dominated by calcium carbonate. No constituents were detected at concentrations exceeding U.S. Environmental Protection Agency maximum contaminant levels or health advisories; however, reduction and oxidation (redox) measurements indicate oxygen-poor water in many of the wells. Gasoline-range organics, three volatile organic compounds, and triazoles were detected in some groundwater samples. The quality of groundwater in the alluvial aquifer generally was suitable for domestic and other uses; however, dissolved iron and manganese were detected in samples from many of the monitor wells at concentrations exceeding U.S. Environmental Protection Agency secondary maximum contaminant levels. Iron and manganese likely are both natural components of the geologic materials in the area and may have become mobilized in the aquifer because of redox processes. Additionally, measurements of dissolved-oxygen concentrations and analyses of major ions and nutrients indicate reducing conditions exist at 7 of the 10 wells sampled.

Measurements of dissolved-oxygen concentrations (less than 0.1 to 9 milligrams per liter) indicated some variability in the oxygen content of the aquifer. Dissolved-oxygen concentrations in samples from 3 of the 10 wells indicated oxic conditions in the aquifer, whereas low dissolved-oxygen concentrations (less than 1 milligram per liter) in samples from 7 wells indicated anoxic conditions. Nutrients were present in low concentrations in all samples collected. Nitrate plus nitrite was detected in samples from 6 of the 10 monitored wells, whereas dissolved ammonia was detected in small concentrations in 8 of the 10 monitored wells. Dissolved organic carbon concentrations generally were low. At least one dissolved organic carbon concentration was quantified by the laboratory in samples from all 10 wells; one of the concentrations was an order of magnitude higher than other detected dissolved organic carbon concentrations, and slightly exceeded the estimated range for natural groundwater.

Samples were collected for analyses of dissolved gases, and field analyses of ferrous iron, hydrogen sulfide, and low-level dissolved oxygen were completed to better understand the redox conditions of the alluvial aquifer. Dissolved gas analyses confirmed low concentrations of dissolved oxygen in samples from wells where reducing conditions exist and indicated the presence of methane gas in samples from several wells. Redox processes in the alluvial aquifer were identified using a model designed to use a multiple-lines-of-evidence approach to distinguish reduction processes. Results of redox analyses indicate iron reduction was the dominant redox process; however, the model indicated manganese reduction and methanogenesis also were taking place in the aquifer.

Each set of samples collected during this study included analysis of at least two, but often many anthropogenic compounds. During the previous 2008–09 study at Jackson Hole Airport, diesel-range organics were measured in small (estimated) concentrations in several samples. Samples collected from all 10 wells sampled during the 2011–12 study were analyzed for diesel-range organics, and there were no detections; however, several other anthropogenic compounds were detected in groundwater samples during water years 2011—12 that were not detected during the previous 2008–09 study. Gasoline-range organics, benzene, ethylbenzene, and total xylene were each detected (but reported as estimated concentrations) in at least one groundwater sample. These compounds were not detected during the previous study or consistently during this study. Several possible reasons these compounds were not detected consistently include (1) these compounds are present in the aquifer at concentrations near the analytical method detection limit and are difficult to detect, (2) these compounds were not from a persistent source during this study, and (3) these compounds were detected because of contamination introduced during sampling or analysis. During water years 2011–2012, groundwater samples were analyzed for triazoles, specifically benzotriazole, 4-methyl-1H-benzotriazole, and 5-methyl-1H-benzotriazole. Triazoles are anthropogenic compounds often used as an additive in deicing and anti-icing fluids as a corrosion inhibitor, and can be detected at lower laboratory reporting levels than glycols, which previously had not been detected. Two of the three triazoles measured, 4-methyl-1H-benzotriazole and 5-methyl-1H-benzotriazole, were detected at low concentrations in groundwater at 7 of the 10 wells sampled. The detection of triazole compounds in groundwater downgradient from airport operations makes it unlikely there is a natural cause for the high rates of reduction present in many airport monitor wells. It is more likely that aircraft deicers, anti-icers, or pavement deicers have seeped into the groundwater system and caused the reducing conditions.

First posted January 6, 2014

For additional information contact:
Director, Wyoming-Montana Water Science Center
U.S. Geological Survey
3162 Bozeman Ave.
Helena, MT 59601

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Suggested citation:

Wright, P.R., 2013, Hydrogeology and water quality in the Snake River alluvial aquifer at Jackson Hole Airport, Jackson, Wyoming, water years 2011 and 2012: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2013–5184, 56 p.,

ISSN 2328-031X (print)

ISSN 2328-0328 (online)





Study Design

Methods of Data Collection and Analysis


Water Quality

Implications for Reduced Groundwater Conditions


References Cited


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