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A partial exponential lumped parameter model to evaluate groundwater age distributions and nitrate trends in long-screened wells

May 19, 2016

A partial exponential lumped parameter model (PEM) was derived to determine age distributions and nitrate trends in long-screened production wells. The PEM can simulate age distributions for wells screened over any finite interval of an aquifer that has an exponential distribution of age with depth. The PEM has 3 parameters – the ratio of saturated thickness to the top and bottom of the screen and mean age, but these can be reduced to 1 parameter (mean age) by using well construction information and estimates of the saturated thickness. The PEM was tested with data from 30 production wells in a heterogeneous alluvial fan aquifer in California, USA. Well construction data were used to guide parameterization of a PEM for each well and mean age was calibrated to measured environmental tracer data (3H, 3He, CFC-113, and 14C). Results were compared to age distributions generated for individual wells using advective particle tracking models (PTMs). Age distributions from PTMs were more complex than PEM distributions, but PEMs provided better fits to tracer data, partly because the PTMs did not simulate 14C accurately in wells that captured varying amounts of old groundwater recharged at lower rates prior to groundwater development and irrigation. Nitrate trends were simulated independently of the calibration process and the PEM provided good fits for at least 11 of 24 wells. This work shows that the PEM, and lumped parameter models (LPMs) in general, can often identify critical features of the age distributions in wells that are needed to explain observed tracer data and nonpoint source contaminant trends, even in systems where aquifer heterogeneity and water-use complicate distributions of age. While accurate PTMs are preferable for understanding and predicting aquifer-scale responses to water use and contaminant transport, LPMs can be sensitive to local conditions near individual wells that may be inaccurately represented or missing in an aquifer-scale flow model.

Publication Year 2016
Title A partial exponential lumped parameter model to evaluate groundwater age distributions and nitrate trends in long-screened wells
DOI 10.1016/j.jhydrol.2016.05.011
Authors Bryant C. Jurgens, John Karl Böhlke, Leon J. Kauffman, Kenneth Belitz, Bradley K. Esser
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Journal of Hydrology
Index ID 70174950
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization California Water Science Center; Toxic Substances Hydrology Program