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Use of environmental tracers to evaluate ground-water age and water-quality trends in a buried-valley aquifer, Dayton area, southwestern Ohio

January 1, 1999

Chlorofluorocarbons (CFC method) and tritium and helium isotopes (3H-3He method) were used as environmental tracers to estimate ground-water age in conjunction with efforts to develop a regional ground-water flow model of the buried-valley aquifer in the Dayton area, southwestern Ohio. This report describes results of CFC and water-quality sampling, summarizes relevant aspects of previously published work, and describes the use of 3H-3He ages to characterize temporal trends in ground-water quality of the buried-valley aquifer near Dayton, Ohio.

Results of CFC sampling indicate that approximately 25 percent of the 137 sampled wells were contaminated with excess CFC's that rendered the ground water unsuitable for age dating. Evaluation of CFC ages obtained for the remaining samples indicated that the CFC compounds used for dating were being affected by microbial degradation. The degradation occurred under anoxic conditions that are found in most parts of the buried-valley aquifer. As a result, ground-water ages derived by the CFC method were too old and were inconsistent with measured tritium concentrations and independently derived 3H-3He ages. Limited data indicate that dissolved methane may play an important role in the degradation of the CFC's. In contrast, the 3H-3He technique was found to yield ground-water ages that were chemically and hydrologically reasonable.

Ground-water ages derived by the 3H-3He technique were compared to values for selected water- quality characteristics to evaluate temporal trends in ground-water quality in the buried- valley aquifer. Distinct temporal trends were not identified for pH, alkalinity, or calcium and magnesium because of rapid equilibration of ground-water with calcite and dolomite in aquifer sediments. Temporal trends in which the amount of scatter and the number of outlier concentrations increased as ground-water age decreased were noted for sodium, potassium, boron, bromide, chloride, ammonia, nitrate, phosphate, sulfate, and organic carbon. Elevated concentrations of these constituents in shallow ground water are probably related to human activities. Temporal trends in which concentrations declined as ground-water age increased may reflect natural processes that reduce constituent concentrations to low levels. For example, the absence of nitrate detections in ground water recharged before 1980 may indicate natural removal of nitrate by bacterially mediated denitrification. Temporal trends observed for dissolved oxygen, iron, nitrate and silica indicate that these constituents may help identify recently (post-1990) recharged ground water.

Publication Year 1999
Title Use of environmental tracers to evaluate ground-water age and water-quality trends in a buried-valley aquifer, Dayton area, southwestern Ohio
DOI 10.3133/wri994113
Authors Gary L. Rowe, Stephanie Dunkle Shapiro, Peter Schlosser
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Water-Resources Investigations Report
Series Number 99-4113
Index ID wri994113
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse