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Hydrogeologic characteristics of the St. Croix River basin, Minnesota and Wisconsin: Implications for the susceptibility of ground water to potential contamination

October 16, 2007

Population growth in the St. Croix River Basin in Minnesota and Wisconsin has intensified concerns of county resource managers and the National Park Service, which is charged with protecting the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, about the potential for ground-water contamination in the basin. This report describes a previously developed method that was adapted to illustrate potential ground-water-contamination susceptibility in the St. Croix River Basin. The report also gives an estimate of ground-water-residence time and surface-water/ground-water interaction as related to natural attenuation and movement of contaminants in five tributary basins.

A ground-water-contamination-susceptibility map was adapted from a state-wide map of Wisconsin to the St. Croix River Basin by use of well-driller construction records and regional maps of aquifer properties in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Measures of various subsurface properties were combined to generate a spatial index of susceptibility. The subjective index method developed for the State of Wisconsin by Schmidt (1987)1 was not derived from analyses of water-quality data or physical processes. Nonetheless, it was adapted for this report to furnish a seamless map across state boundaries that would be familiar to many resource managers. Following this method, areas most susceptible to contamination appear to have coarse-grained sediments (sands or gravels) and shallow water tables or are underlain by carbonate-bedrock aquifers. The least susceptible areas appear to have fine-grained sediments and deep water tables. If an aquifer becomes contaminated, the ground-water-residence time can affect potential natural attenuation along the ground-water-flow path. Mean basin ground-water-residence times were computed for the Apple, Kettle, Kinnickinnic, Snake and Sunrise River Basins, which are tributary basins to the St. Croix Basin, by use of average aquifer properties of saturated thickness, porosity, and recharge rates. The Apple River Basin had the shortest mean ground-water-residence times (20–120 years), owing largely to the moderate saturated thickness and high recharge rate in the basin. The Kinnickinnic and Sunrise River Basins had the longest mean residence times (60–350 and 70–390 years, respectively) chiefly because of the relatively large saturated thickness of the basins. Owing to limitations of the residence-time calculations, actual ground-water-residence times will vary around the mean values within each basin and may range from days or weeks in karst carbonate aquifers to millennia in deep confined sandstone aquifers.

Areas of relatively short residence time (less than the median residence time in each basin) were identified by use of ground-water-flow models for each of the five tributary basins. Results of simulations show that these areas, in which contaminants may have relatively less time for natural attenuation along the short flow paths, generally occur near streams and rivers where ground water discharges to the surface. Finally, the ground-water-flow models were used to simulate ground-water/surface-water interaction in the five tributary basins. Results of simulations show that some lakes and reservoirs leak surface water into the ground-water-flow system on their downgradient side, where the surface-water outflow has been restricted by a dam or a naturally constricted outlet. These locations are noteworthy because contaminated surface waters could potentially enter the ground-water-flow system at these locations.

Publication Year 2007
Title Hydrogeologic characteristics of the St. Croix River basin, Minnesota and Wisconsin: Implications for the susceptibility of ground water to potential contamination
DOI 10.3133/sir20075112
Authors Paul F. Juckem
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2007-5112
Index ID sir20075112
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Upper Midwest Water Science Center