The geochemistry and mixing of leakage in a semi-confined aquifer at a municipal well field, Memphis, Tennessee, USA


The Memphis aquifer in southwestern Tennessee is confined to a semi-confined unconsolidated sand aquifer and is the primary municipal water source in the Memphis metropolitan area. Past studies have identified regions in the metropolitan area in which the overlying upper Claiborne confining unit lacks significant clay and provides a hydraulic connection between the shallow aquifer and the Memphis aquifer. In this study, major solute chemistry, 3H, and 3H/3He groundwater dating are used to investigate the extent and chemical effects of leakage through the confining unit to the Memphis aquifer in the vicinity of a municipal well field. The 3H/3He dates and geochemical modeling of the chemical data are used to constrain mixing fractions and the timing of modern recharge. Tritium activities of as much as 2.8 TU are observed in shallow production wells, but deeper production wells have 3H activities that approach the detection limit. Trends in water chemistry indicate vertical mixing in the aquifer of shallow Na-SO4-Cl-rich water and deeper Ca-Mg-HCO3-rich water. Water chemistry does not vary consistently with seasonal pumping, but 3H activity generally decreases during low use periods. Stable O and H isotopes show little variation and are not useful groundwater tracers for this study. The 3H-bearing, Na-SO4-Cl-rich water is interpreted to reflect recharge of modern water through the upper Claiborne confining unit. The 3H/3He dates from 5 production wells indicate modern recharge, that infiltrated 15-20 a ago, is present in the shallow production wells. Geologic data and hydrologic boundary conditions suggest that the most likely source for continued leakage is a nearby stream, Nonconnah Creek. Geochemical reaction modeling using the NETPATH computer code suggests that proportions of shallow aquifer water leaking into the Memphis aquifer range from 6 to 32%. The 3H/3He dating and NETPATH modeling results correlate well, suggesting that these complementary analytical tools provide an effective means to evaluate proportions of modern water leaking into semi-confined aquifers. These results also indicate a need to carefully consider connections between surface water and semi-confined groundwater resources in wellhead protection programs. © 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.

Publication Title

Applied Geochemistry