Effects of human-induced alteration of groundwater flow on concentrations of naturally-occurring trace elements at water-supply wells

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Abstract

The effects of human-induced alteration of groundwater flow patterns on concentrations of naturally-occurring trace elements were examined in five hydrologically distinct aquifer systems in the USA. Although naturally occurring, these trace elements can exceed concentrations that are considered harmful to human health. The results show that pumping-induced hydraulic gradient changes and artificial connection of aquifers by well screens can mix chemically distinct groundwater. Chemical reactions between these mixed groundwaters and solid aquifer materials can result in the mobilization of trace elements such as U, As and Ra, with subsequent transport to water-supply wells. For example, in the High Plains aquifer near York, Nebraska, mixing of shallow, oxygenated, lower-pH water from an unconfined aquifer with deeper, confined, anoxic, higher-pH water is facilitated by wells screened across both aquifers. The resulting higher-O2, lower-pH mixed groundwater facilitated the mobilization of U from solid aquifer materials, and dissolved U concentrations were observed to increase significantly in nearby supply wells. Similar instances of trace element mobilization due to human-induced mixing of groundwaters were documented in: (1) the Floridan aquifer system near Tampa, Florida (As and U), (2) Paleozoic sedimentary aquifers in eastern Wisconsin (As), (3) the basin-fill aquifer underlying the California Central Valley near Modesto (U), and (4) Coastal Plain aquifers of New Jersey (Ra). Adverse water-quality impacts attributed to human activities are commonly assumed to be related solely to the release of the various anthropogenic contaminants to the environment. The results show that human activities including various land uses, well drilling, and pumping rates and volumes can adversely impact the quality of water in supply wells, when associated with naturally-occurring trace elements in aquifer materials. This occurs by causing subtle but significant changes in geochemistry and associated trace element mobilization as well as enhancing advective transport processes. © 2011.

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Ayotte, J. D., Szabo, Z., Focazio, M. J., & Eberts, S. M. (2011). Effects of human-induced alteration of groundwater flow on concentrations of naturally-occurring trace elements at water-supply wells. Applied Geochemistry, 26(5), 747–762. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.apgeochem.2011.01.033

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