Investigating cross-contamination of aquifers
Shallow aquifers can cross-contaminate deeper aquifers through penetration of an intervening aquitard, via sandy intervals in the aquitard, along well casings, across long well screens, or around aquitard pinchouts. Distinguishing among these potential pathways requires the use of evaluation tools that may support or eliminate certain pathways. These tools include groundwater gradient and aquitard penetration calculations, aquifer pumping test interpretation techniques, chemical concentration plots and statistical methods, hydraulic conductivity-based travel time calculations, pumping-concentration tests, methods for evaluating leaky wells, and methods for evaluating aquitard continuity. Based on analysis of several of these techniques at three sites experiencing aquifer cross-contamination, the authors conclude that calculation of flow rates for various pathways is the single most useful method to confirm or refute specific pathways. Evaluation of leaky wells and aquitard continuity generally must be coupled with other tools to adequately test specific pathways. While fingerprinting, statistical analysis or ratio analysis of contaminants from various sources and receptors was not completed for any of the evaluated sites, the authors believe that these techniques have strong potential for confirming or eliminating pathways. Future research in this area is suggested. Furthermore, the interpretation of pumping-concentration tests is not well developed and needs further assessment.