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Relations among water levels, specific conductance, and depths of bedrock fractures in four road-salt-contaminated wells in Maine, 2007–9

December 6, 2012

Data on groundwater-level, specific conductance (a surrogate for chloride), and temperature were collected continuously from 2007 through 2009 at four bedrock wells known to be affected by road salts in an effort to determine the effects of road salting and fractures in bedrock that intersect the well at a depth below the casing on the presence of chloride in groundwater. Dissolved-oxygen data collected periodically also were used to make inferences about the interaction of fractures and groundwater flow. Borehole geophysical tools were used to determine the depths of fractures in each well that were actively contributing flow to the well, under both static and pumped conditions; sample- and measurement-depths were selected to correspond to the depths of these active fractures. Samples of water from the wells, collected at depths corresponding to active bedrock fractures, were analyzed for chloride concentration and specific conductance; from these analyses, a linear relation between chloride concentration and specific conductance was established, and continuous and periodic measurements of specific conductance were assumed to represent chloride concentration of the well water at the depth of measurement. To varying degrees, specific conductance increased in at least two of the wells during winter and spring thaws; the shallowest well, which also was closest to the road receiving salt treatment during the winter, exhibited the largest changes in specific conductance during thaws. Recharge events during summer months, long after application of road salt had ceased for the year, also produced increases in specific conductance in some of the wells, indicating that chloride which had accumulated or sequestered in the overburden was transported to the wells throughout the year. Geophysical data and periodic profiles of water quality along the length of each well’s borehole indicated that the greatest changes in water quality were associated with active fractures; in one case, high concentration of dissolved oxygen at the bottom of the well indicated the presence of a highly transmissive fracture that was in good connection with a surficial feature (stream or atmosphere). Data indicated that fractures have a substantial influence on the transport of chlorides to the subsurface; that elevated specific conductance occurred throughout the year, not just when road salts were applied; and that chloride contamination, as indicated by elevated specific conductance, may persist for years.

Publication Year 2012
Title Relations among water levels, specific conductance, and depths of bedrock fractures in four road-salt-contaminated wells in Maine, 2007–9
DOI 10.3133/sir20125205
Authors Charles W. Schalk, Nicholas W. Stasulis
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2012-5205
Index ID sir20125205
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization New England Water Science Center