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Risk-based wellhead protection decision support: A repeatable workflow approach

August 31, 2021

Environmental water management often benefits from a risk-based approach where information on the area of interest is characterized, assembled, and incorporated into a decision model considering uncertainty. This includes prior information from literature, field measurements, professional interpretation, and data assimilation resulting in a decision tool with a posterior uncertainty assessment accounting for prior understanding and what is learned through model development and data assimilation. Model construction and data assimilation are time consuming and prone to errors, which motivates a repeatable workflow where revisions resulting from new interpretations or discovery of errors can be addressed and the analyses repeated efficiently and rigorously. In this work, motivated by the real world application of delineating risk-based (probabilistic) sources of water to supply wells in a humid temperate climate, a scripted workflow was generated for groundwater model construction, data assimilation, particle-tracking and post-processing. The workflow leverages existing datasets describing hydrogeology, hydrography, water use, recharge, and lateral boundaries. These specific data are available in the United States but the tools can be applied to similar datasets worldwide. The workflow builds the model, performs ensemble-based history matching, and uses a posterior Monte Carlo approach to provide probabilistic capture zones describing source water to wells in a risk-based framework. The water managers can then select areas of varying levels of protection based on their tolerance for risk of potential wrongness of the underlying models. All the tools in this workflow are open-source and free, which facilitates testing of this repeatable and transparent approach to other environmental problems.