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Hydrologic site assessment for passive treatment of groundwater nitrogen with permeable reactive barriers, Cape Cod, Massachusetts

July 2, 2019

Wastewater disposal associated with rapid population growth and development on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, during the past several decades has resulted in widespread contamination of groundwater with nitrogen. As a result, water quality in many of the streams, lakes, and coastal embayments on Cape Cod is impaired by excess nitrogen. To reduce nitrogen loads to these impaired water bodies, watershed-based planning is currently [2019] underway following a regional strategy, the section 208 areawide water-quality management plan update for Cape Cod. In the updated plan, traditional (sewering) and alternative wastewater management options are under consideration for restoring water quality in impaired surface-water bodies. Permeable reactive barriers, which are reactive zones emplaced below the water table for passive treatment of groundwater contaminants, are one of the alternatives being considered by Cape Cod towns as a potentially cost-effective technology for the removal of nitrogen from groundwater. However, the effectiveness of permeable reactive barriers depends on local conditions, and site-specific hydrologic and water-quality data are needed to inform the decision to install a permeable reactive barrier in a given location. These data are not available in most locations on Cape Cod; consequently, site assessments are needed before selecting this treatment option.

To address this need, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Geological Survey, and Cape Cod Commission formed a technical team in 2015 to develop and evaluate a hydrologic site-assessment approach for permeable reactive barrier installation. The approach developed by the technical team includes a preliminary regional assessment followed by a phased onsite investigation. The approach was intended to provide the hydrologic data needed to make informed decisions on site suitability and to support installation and monitoring should the site be deemed appropriate for a permeable reactive barrier. The factors that were evaluated to characterize local hydrologic conditions and inform site selection included groundwater flow directions and rates, depth to the water table, hydraulic conductivity and degree of heterogeneity of the aquifer, spatial distribution and concentration of nitrate and oxidation-reduction-sensitive constituents, thickness and depth of the treatment zone, distance to downgradient water bodies, and access for drilling and permeable reactive barrier installation. The approach was demonstrated on Cape Cod by conducting a preliminary assessment of 27 sites, from which 5 sites were selected for onsite investigations. Results indicated that the site-assessment approach was successful for screening sites and characterizing the geologic, hydrologic, and water-quality conditions at the sites selected for onsite investigations. Overall, the phased assessment evaluated in this study provided an efficient means of obtaining the hydrologic information needed to determine if a site was suitable for permeable reactive barrier installation on Cape Cod for the passive treatment of nitrogen in groundwater.

Publication Year 2019
Title Hydrologic site assessment for passive treatment of groundwater nitrogen with permeable reactive barriers, Cape Cod, Massachusetts
DOI 10.3133/sir20195047
Authors Jeffrey R. Barbaro, Marcel Belaval, Danna B. Truslow, Denis R. LeBlanc, Thomas C. Cambareri, Scott C. Michaud
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2019-5047
Index ID sir20195047
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Massachusetts Water Science Center; New England Water Science Center