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Hydrogeologic characterization of Area B, Fort Detrick, Maryland

May 2, 2023

Groundwater in the karst groundwater system at Area B of Fort Detrick in Frederick County, Maryland, is contaminated with chlorinated solvents from the past disposal of laboratory wastes. In cooperation with U.S. Army Environmental Command and U.S. Army Garrison Fort Detrick, the U.S. Geological Survey performed a 3-year study to refine the conceptual model of groundwater flow in and around Area B of Fort Detrick at the site- to regional-scale. The investigation was designed to review the geologic setting, assess the temporal variability of the hydrologic system, evaluate the potential for interbasin groundwater flow, determine the degree of vertical connectivity of the aquifer, characterize the sources and timing of groundwater recharge, and identify if dyes from previous tracer tests continue to drain from the aquifer. This study established a continuous hydrologic monitoring network of 12 water level gages, 2 streamgages, a precipitation gage, and in situ fluorometric monitoring. A water budget analysis was performed using hydrologic monitoring data and a soil-water balance model constructed for the study. In this study each individual water budget term is calculated using available data or through modeling, and a water budget residual term is calculated. If the water budget residual term is small relative to the uncertainty of the underlying data, then an additional import or export of water (in other words, interbasin transfer) is not needed to fully describe the hydrologic system. Groundwater and spring samples from 20 locations were collected in a 2019 synoptic geochemical sampling event and analyzed for a suite of analytes that included groundwater age tracer constituents.

The karst groundwater system was found to be highly responsive to hydrologic events, with strong water level and stream base flow responses to individual storm events and a historic wet period in 2017 and 2018. The water budget analysis included historic flooding in May 2018, though more typical hydrologic patterns were observed in 2019 and 2020. During most evaluated intervals, the water budget residual was less than the estimated uncertainty on the residual for the two Carroll Creek watersheds, which suggested no substantial net interbasin flow occurs from these watersheds. The watershed difference area, a region that includes Area B, had a significant negative water budget residual, which may be the result of a net interbasin import of groundwater or the result of focused groundwater recharge not simulated by the soil-water balance model. Geochemical analysis and groundwater age dating reveals shallow groundwater (approximately less than [<] 150 feet deep) appears to be relatively young (approximately <30 years) and to be recharged in the vicinity of Area B. In the deep groundwater sampled in this study (approximately greater than [>] 150 feet deep), older groundwater from a differing recharge source, based on stable isotopes and noble gas analyses, is observed and interpreted to represent less direct connectivity to the surface and increased proportions of water recharged to the north and (or) west of Area B. A clustering analysis to reveal groupings within the suite of geochemical data was used to define seven groups. The groupings generally show that wells in similar depths and lateral aquifer positions generally cluster together, with some exceptions. Although limited by suspended sediments, the in situ fluorometric monitoring at springs did not detect any dye leaving the system above the limit of detection for the method. Dye was only detected above the limit of detection in one well, which was used as an injection well during a previous dye tracer test.

The results of this study support and refine the conceptual site model of groundwater hydrology at Area B. The geologic and geophysical log review in this study agrees with prior assessments of physical controls on groundwater flow. A literature review of mid-Atlantic karst studies identified similar controls reported in these environments. The additional characterization of hydrologic responsiveness in this study suggests that hydrologic conditions and events are important considerations when interpreting potentiometric surfaces and contaminant trends over time and highlights the importance of continuous hydrologic monitoring. There is evidence to suggest that either intense focused groundwater recharge occurs in the vicinity of Area B or net along-valley groundwater interbasin flow from the upper study watershed enters the lower watershed and discharges to Carroll Creek. Geochemical analyses also suggest that water recharged from Catoctin Mountain and the elevated areas to the north and (or) west of the site may be present in the older and deeper Area B groundwater.

Publication Year 2023
Title Hydrogeologic characterization of Area B, Fort Detrick, Maryland
DOI 10.3133/sir20225054
Authors Phillip J. Goodling, Brandon J. Fleming, John Solder, Alex Soroka, Jeff P. Raffensperger
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2022-5054
Index ID sir20225054
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Maryland-Delaware-District of Columbia Water Science Center