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Simulation of the effects of seasonally varying pumping on intraborehole flow and the vulnerability of public-supply wells to contamination

March 24, 2014

Public-supply wells with long screens in alluvial aquifers can produce waters of differing quality from different depths. Seasonal changes in quality are linked to seasonal changes in pumping rates that influence the distribution of flow into the well screens under pumping conditions and the magnitude and direction of intraborehole flow within the wells under ambient conditions. Groundwater flow and transport simulations with MODFLOW and MT3DMS were developed to quantify the effects of changes in average seasonal pumping rates on intraborehole flow and water quality at two long-screened, public-supply wells, in Albuquerque, New Mexico and Modesto, California, where widespread pumping has altered groundwater flow patterns. Simulation results indicate that both wells produce water requiring additional treatment to maintain potable quality in winter when groundwater withdrawals are reduced because less water is derived from parts of the aquifer that contain water requiring less treatment. Simulation results indicate that the water quality at both wells could be improved by increasing average winter-pumping rates to induce more lateral flow from parts of the aquifer that contain better quality water. Arsenic-bearing water produced by the Albuquerque well could be reduced from 55% to 45% by doubling average winter-pumping rate, while nitrate- and uranium-bearing water produced by the Modesto well could be reduced from 95% to 65% by nearly tripling the average winter-pumping rate. Higher average winter-pumping rates would also reduce the volume of intraborehole flow within both wells and prevent the exchange of poor quality water between shallow and deep parts of both aquifers.

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