Scientific Investigations Report 2013-5214
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 aquifer, multilevel monitoring system (MLMS), and perched groundwater wells in the USGS groundwater monitoring networks during 2009–11.
Water in the ESRP aquifer primarily moves through fractures and interflow zones in basalt, generally flows southwestward, and eventually discharges at springs along the Snake River. The aquifer primarily is recharged from infiltration of irrigation water, infiltration of streamflow, groundwater inflow from adjoining mountain drainage basins, and infiltration of precipitation.
From March–May 2009 to March–May 2011, water levels in wells generally declined in the northern part of the INL. Water levels generally rose in the central and eastern parts of the INL.
Detectable concentrations of radiochemical constituents in water samples from aquifer wells or MLMS equipped wells in the ESRP aquifer at the INL generally decreased or remained constant during 2009–11. Decreases in concentrations were attributed to radioactive decay, changes in waste-disposal methods, and dilution from recharge and underflow.
In 2011, concentrations of tritium in groundwater from 50 of 127 aquifer wells were greater than or equal to the reporting level and ranged from 200±60 to 7,000±260 picocuries per liter. Tritium concentrations from one or more discrete zones from four wells equipped with MLMS were greater than or equal to reporting levels in water samples collected at various depths. Tritium concentrations in water from wells completed in shallow perched groundwater at the Advanced Test Reactor Complex (ATR Complex) were less than the reporting levels. Tritium concentrations in deep perched groundwater at the ATR Complex equaled or exceeded the reporting level in 12 wells during at least one sampling event during 2009–11 at the ATR Complex.
Concentrations of strontium-90 in water from 20 of 76 aquifer wells sampled during April or October 2011 exceeded the reporting level. Strontium-90 was not detected within the ESRP aquifer beneath the ATR Complex. During at least one sampling event during 2009–11, concentrations of strontium-90 in water from 10 wells completed in deep perched groundwater at the ATR Complex equaled or exceeded the reporting levels.
During 2009–11, concentrations of plutonium-238, and plutonium-239, -240 (undivided), and americium-241 were less than the reporting level in water samples from all aquifer wells and in all wells equipped with MLMS. Concentrations of cesium-137 were equal to or slightly above the reporting level in 8 aquifer wells and from 2 wells equipped with MLMS.
The concentration of chromium in water from one well south of the ATR Complex was 97 micrograms per liter (μg/L) in April 2011, just less than the maximum contaminant level (MCL) of 100 μg/L. Concentrations of chromium in water samples from 69 other wells sampled ranged from 0.8 μg/L to 25 μg/L. During 2009–11, dissolved chromium was detected in water from 15 wells completed in perched groundwater at the ATR Complex.
In 2011, concentrations of sodium in water from most wells in the southern part of the INL were greater than the background concentration of 10 milligrams per liter (mg/L); the highest concentrations were at or near the Idaho Nuclear Engineering and Technology Center (INTEC). After the newpercolation ponds were put into service in 2002 southwest of the INTEC, concentrations of sodium in water samples from the Rifle Range well rose steadily until 2008, when the concentrations generally began decreasing. The increases and decreases were attributed to disposal variability in the new percolation ponds. Concentrations of sodium in most wells equipped with MLMS generally were consistent with depth. During 2011, dissolved sodium concentrations in water from 17 wells completed in deep perched groundwater at the ATR Complex ranged from 6 to 146 mg/L.
In 2011, concentrations of chloride in most water samples from aquifer wells south of the INTEC and at the Central Facilities Area exceeded the background concentrations of 15 mg/L, but were less than the secondary MCL of 250 mg/L. Chloride concentrations in water from wells south of the INTEC have generally increased because of increased chloride disposal to the old percolation ponds since 1984 when discharge of wastewater to the INTEC disposal well was discontinued. After the new percolation ponds were put into service in 2002 southwest of the INTEC, concentrations of chloride in water samples from one well rose steadily until 2008 then began decreasing. Chloride concentrations in water from all but one well completed in the ESRP aquifer at or near the ATR Complex were less than background and ranged between 10 and 14 mg/L during 2011, similar to concentrations detected during the 2006–08 reporting period. During 2011, chloride concentrations in water from two aquifer wells at the Radioactive Waste Management Complex (RWMC) were slightly greater than concentrations detected during the 2006–08 reporting period. The vertical distribution of chloride concentrations in wells equipped with MLMS were generally consistent within zones during 2009–11 and ranged from about 8 to 20 mg/L. During April 2011, dissolved chloride concentrations in shallow perched groundwater at the ATR Complex ranged from 7 to 13 mg/L in water from three wells. Dissolved chloride concentrations in deep perched groundwater at the ATR Complex during 2011 ranged from 4 to 54 mg/L.
In 2011, sulfate concentrations in water samples from 11 aquifer wells in the south-central part of the INL equaled or exceeded the background concentration of sulfate and ranged from 40 to 167 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 2011, sulfate concentrations in water samples from two wells near the RWMC were greater than background levels and could have resulted from well construction techniques and (or) waste disposal at the RWMC. The vertical distribution of sulfate concentrations in three wells near the southern boundary of the INL was generally consistent with depth, and ranged between 19 and 25 mg/L. The maximum dissolved sulfate concentration in shallow perched groundwater near the ATR Complex was 400 mg/L in well CWP 1 in April 2011. During 2009–11, the maximum concentration of dissolved sulfate in deep perched groundwater at the ATR Complex was 1,550 mg/L in a well located west of the chemical-waste pond.
In 2011, concentrations of nitrate in water from most wells at and near the INTEC exceeded the regional background concentrations of 1 mg/L and ranged from 1.6 to 5.95 mg/L. Concentrations of nitrate in wells south of INTEC and farther away from the influence of disposal areas and the Big Lost River show a general decrease in nitrate concentrations through time.
During 2009–11, water samples from 30 wells were collected and analyzed for volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Six VOCs were detected. At least one and up to five VOCs were detected in water samples from 10 wells. The primary VOCs detected include carbon tetrachloride, chloroform, tetrachloroethylene, 1,1,1-trichloroethane, and trichloroethylene. In 2011, concentrations for all VOCs were less than their respective MCL for drinking water, except carbon tetrachloride in water from two wells.
During 2009–11, variability and bias were evaluated from 56 replicate and 16 blank quality-assurance samples. Results from replicate analyses were investigated to evaluate sample variability. Constituents with acceptable reproducibility were stable isotope ratios, major ions, nutrients, and VOCs. All radiochemical constituents and trace metals had acceptable reproducibility except for gross beta-particle radioactivity, aluminum, antimony, and cobalt. Bias from sample contamination was evaluated from equipment, field, container, and source-solution blanks. No detectable constituent concentrations were reported for equipment blanks of the thief samplers and sampling pipes or for the source-solution and field blanks. Equipment blanks of bailers had detectable concentrations of strontium-90, sodium, chloride, and sulfate, and the container blank had a detectable concentration of dichloromethane.
First posted December 31, 2013
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Davis, L.C., Bartholomay, R.C., and Rattray, G.W., 2013, 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 2009–11: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2013–5214, (DOE/ID-22226), 90 p., http://dx.doi.org/10.3133/sir20135214.
Groundwater Monitoring Networks
Waste-Disposal Sites at the Idaho National Laboratory
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
Perched Groundwater at the Idaho National Laboratory