A previously developed regional groundwater flow model was used to simulate the effects of changes in pumping rates on groundwater-flow paths and extent of recharge discharging to wells for a contaminated fractured bedrock aquifer in southeastern Pennsylvania. Groundwater in the vicinity of the North Penn Area 7 Superfund site, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, was found to be contaminated with organic compounds, such as trichloroethylene (TCE), in 1979. At the time contamination was discovered, groundwater from the underlying fractured bedrock (shale) aquifer was the main source of supply for public drinking water and industrial use. As part of technical support to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) during the Remedial Investigation of the North Penn Area 7 Superfund site from 2000 to 2005, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) developed a model of regional groundwater flow to describe changes in groundwater flow and contaminant directions as a result of changes in pumping. Subsequently, large decreases in TCE concentrations (as much as 400 micrograms per liter) were measured in groundwater samples collected by the EPA from selected wells in 2010 compared to 2005‒06 concentrations.
To provide insight on the fate of potentially contaminated groundwater during the period of generally decreasing pumping rates from 1990 to 2010, steady-state simulations were run using the previously developed groundwater-flow model for two conditions prior to extensive remediation, 1990 and 2000, two conditions subsequent to some remediation 2005 and 2010, and a No Pumping case, representing pre-development or cessation of pumping conditions. The model was used to (1) quantify the amount of recharge, including potentially contaminated recharge from sources near the land surface, that discharged to wells or streams and (2) delineate the areas contributing recharge that discharged to wells or streams for the five conditions.
In all simulations, groundwater divides differed from surface-water divides, partly because of differences in stream elevations and because of geologic structure and pumping. In the 1990 and 2000 simulations, all recharge in and near the vicinity of North Penn Area 7 discharged to wells, but in the 2005 and 2010 simulations some recharge in this area discharged to streams, indicating possible discharge of contaminated groundwater from North Penn Area 7 sources to streams. As the amount of groundwater withdrawals by wells has declined since 1990, the area contributing recharge to wells in the vicinity of North Penn Area 7 has decreased.
To determine the effect of changes in pumping on flow paths and possible flow-path-related contributions to the observed changes in spatial distribution of contaminants in groundwater from 2005 to 2010, the USGS conducted simulations using the previously developed regional groundwater-flow model using reported pumping and estimated recharge rates for 2005 and 2010. Flow paths from recharge at known contaminant source areas to discharge locations at wells or streams were simulated under steady-state conditions for the two periods. Simulated groundwater-flow paths shifted only slightly from 2005 to 2010 as a result of changes in pumping rates. These slight changes in groundwater-flow paths from known sources of contamination are not coincident with the spatial distribution of observed changes in TCE concentrations from 2005 to 2010, indicating that the decreases of TCE concentrations may be a result of other processes, such as source removal or degradation. Results of the simulations and the absence of increases in TCE-degradation-product concentrations indicate that the decreases of TCE concentrations observed in 2010 may be at least partly related to contaminant-source removal by soil excavation completed in 2005, although additional data would be needed to confirm this preliminary explanation.
|Title||Effects of changes in pumping on regional groundwater-flow paths, 2005 and 2010, and areas contributing recharge to discharging wells, 1990–2010, in the vicinity of North Penn Area 7 Superfund site, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania|
|Authors||Lisa A. Senior, Daniel J. Goode|
|Publication Subtype||USGS Numbered Series|
|Series Title||Scientific Investigations Report|
|Record Source||USGS Publications Warehouse|
|USGS Organization||Pennsylvania Water Science Center|