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Borehole analysis, single-well aquifer testing, and water quality for the Burnpit well, Mount Rushmore National Memorial, South Dakota

June 24, 2021

Mount Rushmore National Memorial (hereafter referred to as “the memorial”), in western South Dakota, is maintained by the National Park Service (NPS) and includes 1,278 acres of land in the east-central part of the Black Hills. An ongoing challenge for NPS managers at the memorial is providing water from sustainable and reliable sources for operations, staff, and the increasing number of visitors. In 2020, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and NPS completed a hydrological study of the Burnpit well (well 5), a 580-foot-deep open hole groundwater well completed in metamorphic (crystalline) rock at the memorial. The purpose of this study was to estimate the geological and hydraulic properties of the aquifer supplying the well and to determine the water quality of the groundwater from the well. The study provides NPS staff and managers background information for assessing future uses for the well. Methods for data collection and analysis for the study included borehole and video camera analysis in 2020, aquifer testing by the NPS in 2009 and the USGS in 2020, and water-quality sampling in 2020.

Borehole camera video generally matched the lithology recorded in the well log. Fractures recorded in the well log and observed with the borehole camera, including more than 20 less prominent fractures and rough sidewall areas, indicated a fractured aquifer. The fractures are the primary conduits for groundwater flow through the rock and into the well.

Transmissivity was estimated for the upper and lower water-level drawdown zones at the Burnpit well with data from the NPS and USGS using the Theis and Cooper-Jacob methods. Transmissivity for the NPS test using the Theis method was 9.0 and 11 feet squared per day (ft2/d) for the upper and lower drawdown zones, respectively. Using the Cooper-Jacob method, the transmissivity was 22 and 14 ft2/d for the upper and lower drawdown zones of the aquifer, respectively. Transmissivity estimates from data from the USGS test were similar. The Theis method, applied to the upper and lower drawdown zones of the aquifer, produced transmissivity estimates of 7.7 and 10 ft2/d, and the Cooper-Jacob method produced estimates of 9.7 and 12 ft2/d, respectively.

Storativity (specific yield) estimated using the Theis method for the NPS aquifer-test data was 0.85 and 0.92 for the upper and lower drawdown zones of the aquifer, respectively. The Cooper-Jacob method applied to the NPS aquifer-test data produced storativity estimates of 0.11 and 0.50 for the upper and lower drawdown zones, respectively. The Theis method applied to the USGS aquifer-test data estimated storativity values of 0.77 and 1.0 for the upper and lower drawdown zones, respectively. The Cooper-Jacob method estimated storativity of 0.50 and 0.60 for the upper and lower drawdown zones of the USGS aquifer test, respectively. The estimated storativity values from the NPS and USGS aquifer tests for the upper and lower drawdown zones were higher than expected for limestones and schists.

The hypothetical equilibrium drawdown for the Burnpit well was estimated after the NPS test in 2009 at no more, and possibly less, than 35 gallons per minute. The NPS noted that the sustainable yield likely was overestimated because the water level did not stabilize during the NPS aquifer test. The specific capacity for the NPS aquifer test in 2009 was 0.16 gallon per minute per foot ([gal/min]/ft) of drawdown at 3 hours, and the specific capacity for the USGS aquifer test in 2020 was 0.13 (gal/min)/ft of drawdown at 3 hours. The rate of water-level recovery after pumping ceased was 0.017 and 0.013 (gal/min)/ft for the NPS and USGS aquifer tests, respectively. The water-level recovery rate was nearly an order of magnitude less than the specific capacity estimated during pumping, indicating that water levels in the Burnpit well may not recover quickly enough during pumping to provide for a continuous source of water.

Water-quality samples were collected at the Burnpit well on June 24 and July 23, 2020, and analyzed for field-measured properties, major ions, metals, nutrients, and perchlorate. Iron, zinc, and lithium concentrations for unfiltered samples in the well were at least three times greater than the mean filtered sample concentrations reported for crystalline aquifers in the Black Hills. Manganese concentrations were less than the mean concentration for crystalline aquifers but exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) secondary drinking-water standards. The iron concentration from the June 24 sample was about 11 times greater than the EPA secondary drinking-water standards and mean concentrations from crystalline aquifers in the Black Hills. Arsenic concentrations in Burnpit well samples collected in 2020 were greater than the EPA primary drinking-water standard and the mean concentration for crystalline aquifers in the Black Hills. Arsenic occurs naturally in the rock of crystalline aquifers, and concentrations from samples in the Black Hills commonly exceed the EPA primary drinking-water standard of 10 micrograms per liter. High concentrations of arsenic, iron, and manganese metals in the Burnpit well make groundwater from the well in its natural state unusable as a drinking-water source, and water treatment would be necessary to reduce the trace element concentrations to less than the EPA primary and secondary drinking-water standards. However, if the memorial has immediate nonpotable water requirements, such as for construction and fire suppression, groundwater from the Burnpit well could provide water without causing additional stress to current (2021) drinking-water sources.