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Lithology, hydrologic characteristics, and water quality of the Arkansas River Valley alluvial aquifer in the vicinity of Van Buren, Arkansas

April 27, 2015

A study to assess the potential of the Arkansas River Valley alluvial aquifer in the vicinity of Van Buren, Arkansas, as a viable source of public-supply water was conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey in cooperation with the Little Rock, District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. An important study component was to identify possible changes in hydrologic conditions following installation of James W. Trimble Lock and Dam 13 (December 1969) on the Arkansas River near the study area. Data were gathered for the study in regard to the lithology, hydrologic characteristics, and water quality of the aquifer. Lithologic information was obtained from drillers’ logs of wells drilled from 1957 through 1959. Water-quality samples were collected from 10 irrigation wells and analyzed for inorganic constituents and pesticides. To evaluate the potential viability of the alluvial aquifer in the Van Buren area, these data were compared to similar stratigraphic, lithologic, and groundwater-quality data from the Arkansas River Valley alluvial aquifer at Dardanelle, Ark., where the aquifer provides a proven, productive, sole-source of public-supply water.

Drillers’ logs for 59 wells in the Van Buren study area revealed well depths ranging from 25 to 52 feet (ft), with a mean depth of 42 ft. The thickness of the lower sand/gravel interval serving as the water-producing zone ranged from 5 to 47 ft, with a mean thickness of 29 ft. The presence of gravel was noted in only 4 of 59 well logs available for review from the study area.

Percent sand was calculated from well logs in the study area, and these sand percentages were overlain onto an orthophotograph map to examine the areal distribution of sand percentage in relation to geomorphologic features of the flood plain in the study area. The logs denoting the greatest percent sand tend to occur in areas near to the river and on the concave (point bar) side of abandoned channels, while the lower percent sand tends to occur on the convex (channel fill and backswamp deposits) side of the abandoned channels.

Comparison of hydrographs from water levels collected between 1957 and 1972 to cumulative departure from mean monthly and mean annual precipitation showed overall good fit and explained the long-term decreasing water levels from the earliest period of record through October 1967, followed by a sharp rise in water levels concurrent with rises in cumulative departure from mean monthly and mean annual precipitation. Hydrographs for four wells ranging from 0.8 to 4.5 miles upstream from the dam and potentially affected by rising river stage were compared to graphs of river stage and cumulative departure from mean monthly precipitation. Water levels for these wells showed minimal discernible effect by rising river stage following dam completion. Periods of increased precipitation compared closely to increases in water level for all hydrographs, regardless of river stage, and periods of no precipitation resulted in declining water levels, although river stage continued to slowly rise during these same periods.

The Arkansas River has greater salinity than local groundwater, providing a quantitative tracer for any groundwater recharge originating from the river. Comparison of predam and postdam groundwater-chloride concentrations showed no increase in chloride concentrations after dam installation, which is consistent with hydrologic data. These data suggest that the dominant source of groundwater recharge in the Arkansas River Valley alluvial aquifer is infiltration of precipitation through proximal, coarse channel deposits, with minimal influx of river water.

Groundwater-quality data collected from 10 wells in the study area indicated a calcium-bicarbonate water type. No primary drinking-water standards were exceeded for any constituents, and iron and manganese were the only constituents exceeding secondary drinking-water regulations. Six of the 10 well-water samples were analyzed for the presence of pesticides, as row-crop agriculture is the dominant land use in the study area. Six herbicide compounds and one herbicide metabolite were detected at concentrations substantially below those of the Federal primary drinking-water standards and health advisories.

The hydrologic and geochemical data gathered for this study provide a qualitative assessment of the potential of the Arkansas River Valley alluvial aquifer as a source of public water supply in the Van Buren area. Results indicate minimal influx of water from the Arkansas River, and recharge to the aquifer appears to be dominantly by infiltration of precipitation through overlying alluvium. If vertical wells are used as a source of public water supply, then several wells will have to be used in combination at relatively low pumping rates and placed in areas with a greater percent sand. Use of a horizontal well configuration near the river to increase production may depend on infiltration of river water to supplement water removed from storage, especially where areas of lower permeability sediments might be encountered within the surrounding alluvium. If a poor hydraulic connection exists between the river and the alluvium, as indicated by this study, then production will depend on ample precipitation and recharge throughout the year and groundwater storage sufficient to prevent declining water levels where pumping rates exceed recharge.

Publication Year 2015
Title Lithology, hydrologic characteristics, and water quality of the Arkansas River Valley alluvial aquifer in the vicinity of Van Buren, Arkansas
DOI 10.3133/sir20155044
Authors Timothy M. Kresse, Drew A. Westerman, Rheannon M. Hart
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2015-5044
Index ID sir20155044
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Arkansas Water Science Center