Well ER-5-3-2 is part of a well network designed to monitor long-term water levels and radionuclide concentrations downgradient from underground nuclear tests that occurred in Frenchman Flat, an area of the U.S. Department of Energy Nevada National Security Site in southern Nevada. Interpretation of monitoring records for well ER-5-3-2 was confounded by previously unexplained water-level fluctuations in the well hydrograph. This study integrated geologic, hydrologic, and water-chemistry data to evaluate potential stresses and hydrologic conditions that likely affected the well ER-5-3-2 hydrograph. Numerical groundwater models were applied to evaluate four model scenarios: (1) wellbore leakage without recharge, (2) wellbore leakage with recharge, (3) equilibration to vertical heterogeneities between shallow (low transmissivity) and deep (higher transmissivity) carbonate zones, and (4) equilibration to lateral heterogeneities in carbonate rocks.
Meteoric recharge was not the cause of the 21-foot (ft) water-level rise in well ER-5-3-2 from 2001 to 2011 or the 4-ft decline from 2012 to 2016. Based on observed water-level fluctuations in nearby wells, the water-level rise and decline from recharge for these periods was less than 3 and 1 ft, respectively. The lateral-heterogeneity scenario is based on the assumption that the 21-ft water-level rise from 2001 to 2011 was a natural water-level reequilibration following the pumping-induced depressurization of a large volume of high transmissivity and low-storage carbonate rock that is surrounded by low transmissivity and high-storage carbonate rock. The lateral-heterogeneity scenario was discounted because simulated water levels cannot match the well ER-5-3-2 hydrograph. Underground nuclear testing and temperature effects were discounted based on hydraulic connections and water-temperature data.
Wellbore-leakage scenarios are based on the assumption that the water-level rise was sustained from leakage rates required to cause a localized mounding in the carbonate system near well ER-5-3-2, where the carbonate transmissivity is 530 square feet per day. Even though simulated and measured water levels compare favorably for scenarios of wellbore leakage with and without recharge, large volumes (178–184 million gallons) of groundwater from volcanic rocks would be required to leak into the carbonate system, which is not supported by water-chemistry data.
An alternative conceptualization of wellbore leakage is based on the assumption that the 21-ft water-level rise from 2001 to 2011 was sustained by the hydraulic disconnection of well ER-5-3-2 from the carbonate system. The disconnection occurred several months after a constant-rate test in well ER-5-3-2 when carbonate rocks were hydraulically disconnected from the well by either (1) the shifting of sloughed fill in the open hole or (2) the encrusting of carbonate precipitate in the well screen. The hydraulic disconnection effectively sealed the well and caused a 21-ft water-level rise from wellbore leakage during 2001–11. In this case, total wellbore leakage from 2001 to 2011 was about 50 gallons. The 4-ft water-level decline from 2012 to 2016 was conceptualized to have occurred from the slow breaking of the seal and reconnection of the well to the carbonate system. This alternative conceptualization of wellbore leakage was consistent with water-chemistry analyses because the computed wellbore leakage (50 gallons) was small relative to purged volumes (30,000–40,000 gallons) for sampling, and the water chemistry would not be expected to change.
The shallow-deep carbonate scenario provided another explanation for the well ER-5-3-2 hydrograph. This scenario is based on the assumption that well-construction effects and vertical heterogeneity of the carbonate system explain the ER-5-3-2 water-level trend. Well-construction effects are attributed to a temporary clogging of the open interval below the well screen that was opened during pumping events, which affected the hydraulic connection of deep transmissive carbonate rocks to the wellbore. The 21-ft water-level rise from 2001 to 2011 was a natural equilibration to shallow, low-transmissivity carbonate rocks during a period when the lower open interval was clogged. The 4-ft decline from 2012 to 2016 represents equilibration between the shallow and deep intervals, because of a partial unclogging of the connection between the two intervals. The low water levels from 2016 to 2021 resulted from pumping for sampling and an unclogging of the open interval so that the low head in the deep carbonate dominated the water level. Despite potential well-construction effects, from either a wellbore leakage or shallow-deep carbonate scenario, samples collected from well ER-5-3-2 are representative of the carbonate system.
|Title||Evaluation of potential stresses and hydrologic conditions driving water-level fluctuations in well ER-5-3-2, Frenchman Flat, southern Nevada|
|Authors||Tracie R. Jackson, Rebecca J. Frus|
|Publication Subtype||USGS Numbered Series|
|Series Title||Scientific Investigations Report|
|Record Source||USGS Publications Warehouse|
|USGS Organization||Nevada Water Science Center|
MODFLOW6 models used to evaluate potential stresses and hydrologic conditions driving water-level fluctuations in well ER-5-3-2, Frenchman Flat, Southern Nevada
MODFLOW6 models used to evaluate potential stresses and hydrologic conditions driving water-level fluctuations in well ER-5-3-2, Frenchman Flat, Southern NevadaThe hydrograph for well ER-5-3-2 in Frenchman Flat, southern Nevada, has previously unexplained water-level fluctuations. Four, three-dimensional, groundwater models (MODFLOW 6) were developed to evaluate potential stresses and hydrologic conditions affecting the well ER-5-3-2 hydrograph. Four model scenarios were developed that simulated: (1) wellbore leakage without recharge, (2) wellbore leakag