Application of numerical tools to investigate a leaky aquitard beneath urban well fields


Memphis aquifer is the primary drinking water source in Shelby County (Tennessee, USA), and it supplies industrial, commercial, and residential water. Memphis aquifer is separated from the Shallow aquifer by a clayey layer known as the Upper Claiborne confining unit (UCCU). All of the production wells in the Memphis area are screened in the Memphis aquifer, or even deeper in the Fort Pillow aquifer. Traditionally, it was assumed that the UCCU could fully protect the Memphis aquifer from the contaminated Shallow aquifer groundwater. However, recent studies show that at some locations, the UCCU is thin or absent, which possibly leads to the contribution of Shallow aquifer to the Memphis aquifer. Accurately locating the breaches demands expensive and difficult geological or geochemical investigations, especially within an urban area. Hence, a pre-field investigation to identify the locations where the presence of breaches is likely can significantly reduce the cost of field investigations and improve their results. In this study, to identify the locations where the presence of breaches in the UCCU is likely, we develop a reliable MODFLOW-based numerical model, and use three different analyses: (1) pilot-point calibration (PPC), (2) velocity and flow budget (VFB), and (3) particle tracking (PT), to post-process the developed groundwater model results. These pre-field numerical investigations provide relevant and defensible explanations for groundwater flow anomalies in an aquifer system for informed decision-making and future field investigations. In this study, we identify five specific zones within the broad study area which are reasonable candidates for the future field investigations. Finally, we test the results of each analysis against other evidence for breaches, to demonstrate that the results of the numerical analyses are reliable and supported by previous studies.

Publication Title

Water (Switzerland)