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Hydrology of Haskell Lake and investigation of a groundwater contamination plume, Lac du Flambeau Reservation, Wisconsin

August 18, 2020

Haskell Lake is a shallow, 89-acre drainage lake in the headwaters of the Squirrel River, on the Lac du Flambeau Reservation in northern Wisconsin. The lake has long been valued by the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians (LDF Tribe) for abundant wild rice and game fish. In recent decades, however, wild rice has mostly disappeared from the lake and the fishery has declined. A petroleum contamination plume discovered in the 1990s in the shallow aquifer upgradient from the northern end of the lake poses a threat to the ecological health of the lake and the aquifer, which is the sole drinking water source for nearby residents and businesses. Understanding of the lake’s hydrology is important to the LDF Tribe as they seek to restore wild rice and maintain the ecological health of the Haskell Lake/Tower Creek watershed. An improved understanding of lithology in the area of the contamination plume, documentation of a contamination pathway from groundwater in the plume source area to Haskell Lake, and an understanding of the plume extent beneath the lake are needed to advance remediation efforts. Evaluation of the fraction of groundwater discharge that is contaminated relative to the overall lake water budget is desired as a first step towards determining the extent of ecological effects from the plume.

A cooperative study between the U.S. Geological Survey and the LDF Tribe was initiated to quantify the lake water budget and the sources of water to the lake, to provide a rough estimate of the maximum quantity of groundwater discharge to the lake that may be contaminated, and to improve the conceptual understanding of the plume extent and subsurface materials in the area of contamination. The results of this study can help inform natural resource management of the Haskell Lake/Tower Creek watershed, including planned wild rice restoration and cleanup of the contaminant plume.

During 2016–17, field data on lake and groundwater levels, gradients, fluxes, and subsurface lithology were collected using a variety of techniques that ranged from basic measurement of water levels and streamflows to distributed temperature sensing, vertical temperature profiling, and several shallow geophysical methods. The data were used to inform a MODFLOW–NWT model that simulated the contributing groundwatershed, including the water budget for Haskell Lake and Tower Creek using the Lake, Streamflow-Routing, and Unsaturated Zone-Flow Packages. Particle tracking with the MODFLOW solution (using MODPATH 6) was used to improve understanding of the downgradient extent of the contamination plume, estimate groundwater flux through the plume area, and delineate the groundwater contributing area (groundwatershed) for the lake/creek system. Linear uncertainty estimates for model results were computed during model parameter estimation using the software package PEST++.

Results indicate groundwater discharge along the perimeter of Haskell Lake, with groundwater accounting for about 22 (± 11.5) percent of the lake water budget. Field data and particle tracking results indicate discharge of the entire contamination plume to Haskell Lake. Although the exact locations where contaminated groundwater enters the lake are unknown, the downgradient extent of the plume beneath Haskell Lake is likely limited to within about 700 feet from the shore. Groundwater flux through the plume accounts for at most about 1.4 percent of total groundwater discharge to Haskell Lake, or about 0.3 percent of the lake water budget. Most groundwater discharging to Haskell Lake and Tower Creek originates as terrestrial recharge. A lesser amount originates in or passes through neighboring lakes, including Buckskin, Crawling Stone, Broken Bow, Tippecanoe, and Jerms Lakes, as well as several unnamed kettles. The average age of simulated groundwater discharge to the lake is about 20 years.

Publication Year 2020
Title Hydrology of Haskell Lake and investigation of a groundwater contamination plume, Lac du Flambeau Reservation, Wisconsin
DOI 10.3133/sir20205024
Authors Andrew T. Leaf, Megan J. Haserodt
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2020-5024
Index ID sir20205024
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Wisconsin Water Science Center; Upper Midwest Water Science Center