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Transient effects on groundwater chemical compositions from pumping of supply wells at the Nevada National Security Site, 1951-2008

May 18, 2012

Nuclear testing and support activities at the Nevada National Security Site have required large amounts of water for construction, public consumption, drilling, fire protection, hydraulic and nuclear testing, and dust control. To supply this demand, approximately 20,000 million gallons of water have been pumped from 23 wells completed in 19 boreholes located across the Nevada National Security Site starting as early as the 1950s. As a consequence of more or less continuous pumping from many of these wells for periods as long as 58 years, transient groundwater flow conditions have been created in the aquifers that supplied the water. To evaluate whether long-term pumping caused changes in water compositions over time, available chemical analyses of water samples from these 19 boreholes were compiled, screened, and evaluated for variability including statistically significant temporal trends that can be compared to records of groundwater pumping. Data used in this report have been extracted from a large database (Geochem08, revision 3.0, released in September 2008) containing geochemical and isotopic information created and maintained by primary contractors to the U.S. Department of Energy, National Nuclear Security Administration, Nevada Site Office. Data extracted from this source were compiled for the entire period of record, converted to uniform reporting units, and screened to eliminate analyses of poor or unknown quality, as well as clearly spurious values. The resulting data are included in accompanying spreadsheets that give values for (1) pH and specific conductance, (2) major ion concentrations, (3) trace element concentrations and environmental isotope ratios, and (4) mean, median, and variance estimates for major ion concentrations. The resulting data vary widely in quality and time-series density. An effort has been made to establish reasonable ranges of analytical uncertainty expected for each analyte and eliminate analyses that are obvious outliers. Analysis of chemical trends in this report primarily rely on specific conductance measurements and major ion concentrations, data considered to be the most accurate and reliable over the entire time span of investigation. The analysis uses parametric and non-parametric evaluations to provide a statistical basis for trend identification. Trace element and isotope data are examined for consistency, but typically are too inaccurate or infrequent to provide a reliable long term basis for trend evaluation. Groundwater withdrawal records compiled in a companion report are included graphically in this report to allow qualitative comparisons between water quality and pumping history. Data for each supply well include (1) a borehole description and summary of pumping history, (2) a description of water-quality parameters, (3) an evaluation of temporal variations of specific conductance and major ion concentrations, and (4) an examination of supporting information from trace element and isotope data. A range of responses are observed for individual supply wells that likely include the effects of both aquifer dynamics and changing borehole conditions. Data from most wells show little or no evidence for temporal variation in water-quality parameters indicating that aquifers at the Nevada National Security Site are capable of producing large volumes of compositionally uniform water over many years of pumping. A smaller number of wells show evidence of transient changes. Wells that have ceased pumping commonly show compositions that shift toward lower concentrations in subsequent bailed samples, which indicates that more dilute water entered the well over time due to either leakage of meteoric water into the well casing or more wide-spread recharge into the shallow phreatic zone. Wells that show systematic changes in water compositions during episodes of pumping commonly have multiple open intervals whose contributions to water in the well may change over time due to hydraulic conditions or well dynamics.

Publication Year 2012
Title Transient effects on groundwater chemical compositions from pumping of supply wells at the Nevada National Security Site, 1951-2008
DOI 10.3133/sir20125023
Authors James B. Paces, Peggy E. Elliott, Joseph M. Fenelon, Randell J. Laczniak, Michael T. Moreo
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2012-5023
Index ID sir20125023
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Nevada Water Science Center