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A conceptual model of ground-water flow in the eastern Snake River Plain aquifer at the Idaho National Laboratory and vicinity with implications for contaminant transport

September 1, 2006

Ground-water flow in the west-central part of the eastern Snake River Plain aquifer is described in a conceptual model that will be used in numerical simulations to evaluate contaminant transport at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) and vicinity. The model encompasses an area of 1,940 square miles (mi2) and includes most of the 890 mi2 of the INL. A 50-year history of waste disposal associated with research activities at the INL has resulted in measurable concentrations of waste contaminants in the aquifer. A thorough understanding of the fate and movement of these contaminants in the subsurface is needed by the U.S. Department of Energy to minimize the effect that contaminated ground water may have on the region and to plan effectively for remediation.

Three hydrogeologic units were used to represent the complex stratigraphy of the aquifer in the model area. Collectively, these hydrogeologic units include at least 65 basalt-flow groups, 5 andesite-flow groups, and 61 sedimentary interbeds. Three rhyolite domes in the model area extend deep enough to penetrate the aquifer. The rhyolite domes are represented in the conceptual model as low permeability, vertical pluglike masses, and are not included as part of the three primary hydrogeologic units. Broad differences in lithology and large variations in hydraulic properties allowed the heterogeneous, anisotropic basalt-flow groups, andesite-flow groups, and sedimentary interbeds to be grouped into three hydrogeologic units that are conceptually homogeneous and anisotropic. Younger rocks, primarily thin, densely fractured basalt, compose hydrogeologic unit 1; younger rocks, primarily of massive, less densely fractured basalt, compose hydrogeologic unit 2; and intermediate-age rocks, primarily of slightly-to-moderately altered, fractured basalt, compose hydrogeologic unit 3. Differences in hydraulic properties among adjacent hydrogeologic units result in much of the large-scale heterogeneity and anisotropy of the aquifer in the model area, and differences in horizontal and vertical hydraulic conductivity in individual hydrogeologic units result in much of the small-scale heterogeneity and anisotropy of the aquifer in the model area.

The inferred three-dimensional geometry of the aquifer in the model area is very irregular. Its thickness generally increases from north to south and from west to east and is greatest south of the INL. The interpreted distribution of older rocks that underlie the aquifer indicates large changes in saturated thickness across the model area.

The boundaries of the model include physical and artificial boundaries, and ground-water flows across the boundaries may be temporally constant or variable and spatially uniform or nonuniform. Physical boundaries include the water-table boundary, base of the aquifer, and northwest mountain-front boundary. Artificial boundaries include the northeast boundary, southeast-flowline boundary, and southwest boundary. Water flows into the model area as (1) underflow (1,225 cubic feet per second (ft3/s)) from the regional aquifer (northeast boundary-constant and nonuniform), (2) underflow (695 ft3/s) from the tributary valleys and mountain fronts (northwest boundary-constant and nonuniform), (3) precipitation recharge (70 ft3/s) (constant and uniform), streamflow-infiltration recharge (95 ft3/s) (variable and nonuniform), wastewater return flows (6 ft3/s) (variable and nonuniform), and irrigation-infiltration recharge (24 ft3/s) (variable and nonuniform) across the water table (water-table boundary-variable and nonuniform), and (4) upward flow across the base of the aquifer (44 ft3/s) (uniform and constant). The southeast-flowline boundary is represented as a no-flow boundary. Water flows out of the model area as underflow (2,037 ft3/s) to the regional aquifer (southwest boundary-variable and nonuniform) and as ground-water withdrawals (45 ft3/s) (water table boundary-variable and nonuniform).

Ground-water flow i

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