What's new in Groundwater?
Groundwater news and perspective
posted by KU's GEOL 751 class of 2021
San Kamphaeng Hot Springs, Thailand (photo by Schulmeister, 2019)
This list of relevant local and regional groundwater science news has been compiled by the students of KU's online Physical Hydrogeology class of 2021. The students live in 13 U.S. states and in the United Arab Emirates. Contributions include personal insights, reports on, or links to groundwater-related issues in students' communities or regions, and demonstrate the broad application of topics we cover in class. The blog also provides a networking tool for our diverse group of geographically separated students.
A reflection on last night's class from From Sarah Gundrum, in Greenbay WI: In an area known for its sand and gravel deposits in Central Wisconsin, lakes are draining due to water withdrawals from wells. Most of the water used is for farm irrigation. Lake levels have been reduced by almost 3 feet, and approximately 100,000 gallons of water per day are pumped from 110 nearby wells. The state is looking to adopt an effective system that may include limits on pumping and more efficient water use. Kansas water management strategies may be adopted to develop a better system in Wisconsin. Modeling, as we recently studied in class, would be an effective way to understand how the wells are affecting lake water levels. For more on this subject, see: https://madison.com/wsj/news/local/environment/dnr-study-finds-irrigation-responsible-for-draining-lakes/article_69efc202-d738-5c15-ad01-01d78a8a2e9e.html
And another reflection on our guest lecture by Adam Alani in Lawrence, KS: During our guest lecture, David Barfield mentioned the water supply issues of Hays Kansas and his involvement with the predicament as Chief Engineer. Although Hays is not within a Ground Water Management District (GMD) (1) or under the administration of a Local Enhanced Management Areas (LEMAs) (2), the city has attempted to reduce water consumption and look for sources of water outside Hays. Recently, Hays scaled back their water restrictions to now not allowing the following: Residents cannot wash off hard surfaces (i.e. driveways, parking lots, windows, etc.), allow water to escape off property (i.e. draining to a sidewalk), or water outdoors from noon to 7 p.m. over the summer. Violations results in fines of up to $250.00. Their regulations also applied to private wells. These city ordinances show that Hays is somewhat concerned with the water supply they have and are attempting to scale back use (3). Refs: (1) https://www.kgs.ku.edu/Hydro/gmd.html (2)http://kda-dwr-updates.org/local-enhanced-management-area-lema/ (3)https://www.haysusa.com/565/Water-RulesRestrictions
Living along the Missouri River, Rachel Puleo adds: Additional to agricultural productivity gained from irrigation and predictable flooding, rivers have also been the major source of potable water across history. Today, as erosion and contamination threaten our water supply, communities rely on treated water to serve their needs. Alex Dzurick from Columbia Water and Light discusses Columbia, Missouri’s drinking water source, and how we are lucky in having a natural alluvial aquifer in the McBaine Bottoms. This type of aquifer serves as the first step in the filtration of potable water. Formed from glacial deposits along the Missouri river’s edge, this aquifer holds 44 billion gallons of naturally filtered water, which is then secondarily treated at the city’s water treatment plant before being piped to customers. Due to the natural properties of this aquifer, Columbia has high-quality water and exceeds the water quality standards set by the EPA. I believe it is important to know where your local water is coming from as a better understanding can allow empowered decisions to protect the natural resources around you. See:
MODFLOW in action! From Dalton Cabaugh (Fayetteville, PA): Groundwater contamination was discovered proximate to several industrial facilities in southeastern Pennsylvania. In response, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) conducted investigations utilizing geophysical methods, aquifer testing, water-level monitoring, and streamflow measurements to provide a framework from which to develop a three-dimensional finite-difference numerical model. The USGS used MODFLOW-2000 to simulate regional steady-state flow to determine the direction of groundwater and contaminate flow paths. The full report can be found at https://pubs.usgs.gov/sir/2013/5045/support/sir2013-5045.pdf.
As Logan French, originally from Texas, states: Texas faces many groundwater issues. Among these is the decline of Trinity Aquifer (https://pubs.usgs.gov/ha/ha730/ch_e/E-text8.html), an aquifer underlying much of central Texas. Water is pumped for use in several major cities including Dallas, Fort Worth, and Waco as well as for agricultural purposes. Unfortunately, a high demand has resulted in over-pumping and the decline of Trinity Aquifer over the last 20 years. Many springs and surface water bodies are fed by groundwater in this region and therefore rely on the maintenance of the water table level. Because of over-pumping, these surface water sources are threatened and declining. Springs that used to produce flowing water year round are in some cases only seeing small amounts of water dribbling out during parts of the year. Streams flow at lower levels or not at all during some seasons. This creates hardships for the people and environment depending on them and is only on the rise. A lack of understanding leads landowners to continue pumping as normal rather than working on preserving the declining resource. Read more about this issue here: https://www.dallasnews.com/opinion/commentary/2021/05/24/texas-groundwater-supplies-are-shrinking-and-thats-a-threat-to-us-all/
Fred Tarley of Kansas City is interested in groundwater depletion in India: Multiple problems of groundwater depletion are arousing around the world. Studies from the Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati explored the consequences of too much irrigation on river-aquifer flow system on the Kosi basin, portion of the approximately 2,500-kilometer-long Ganges River, in 2010. The studies discovered that in spite of the flow of water from river to aquifers increased during the dry period of time, the flow from the aquifers to rivers was reduced. In the hydrological concept, the changes in these systems can muddle a long-term consequence in terms of reduced river flow. The study site is embedded with agricultural land, whose groundwater demand account for nearly 80 percent of total irrigation demand in the basin. See: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0022169421008611
First-hand insight on coastal subsidence from Logan French: Until three months ago, I had lived in Houston, TX my entire life. It has been a big city with a big water demand for a long time, and although now it gets most of its water supply from surface water, it has a history of heavy groundwater use, resulting in subsidence issues. The geology of Houston is primarily soft sediment, especially silt and clay which is subject to compaction which expedites subsidence issues. Houston lies along the Gulf Coast and is at risk for hurricanes and large flooding events. It is a city covered in cement, and when sinking is added in, flooding can very quickly become disastrous. I was in Houston when Hurricane Harvey hit and saw the destruction and loss of life first hand. Huge numbers of people were displaced, hospitals were overrun, people were left stranded, and months later some roads were still under water. Although efforts have been made to reduce groundwater use, and both subsidence districts in the area (Harris-Galveston Subsidence District https://hgsubsidence.org/ and Fort Bend Subsidence District https://fbsubsidence.org/ ) have mitigation plans in place, this is not a new issue and it seems that these measures are not enough to stop a problem that cannot be reversed. Read more about recent calls for action here: https://today.tamu.edu/2021/02/08/a-sinking-situation-in-houston-texas-gulf-coast/ and here: https://www.businessinsider.com/cities-towns-sinking-rapidly-us-2019-6 and see some examples of how far back this issue goes here: https://texaslivingwaters.org/groundwater/subsidence-houston-galveston-region/#:~:text=Since%201836%2C%20groundwater%20withdrawals%20have,of%20the%20land%20to%20collapse.
From Rachel Puleo: Each year, the state of Florida experiences algae blooms that occur both on the coast and inland. Although natural, over the last two decades the severity of the blooms has increased due to toxic chemicals in runoff or dumping in lakes, streams, and local bays. The articles attached below provide an overview of what algae blooms are, how they occur, how climate change may be impacting them, and what we can do to help. The second link goes into depth how the once sandy bottom of Lake Okeechobee (Floridas largest fresh water lake) now holds tens of thousands metric tons of phosphorus, their origin how they came to be there, and what the state legislation is doing about it. These two issues are related through the industrial and agricultural industies impact on the algae blooms seen across the state each year, which impact the economy and water quality. The last link provides an in depth case study from the USGS on the city of Okeechobee as their main water-supply source is Lake Okeechobee. Recurring water-quality problems in the lake (algae blooms) affect the treatment methods and creates poor-tasting water. The document further goes over how the city's water supply is then supplemented by ground water from the surficial aquifer system that is suitable for public supply after treatment. See:
We've discussed floodplain aquifers and stream-aquifer semester. Ali Vinke (Kansas City, MO) lives along the largest watershed on the U.S.... The Upper Missouri River Basin is an important resource for communities all along the river. Whether it be for crops or drinking water, people who live along the Missouri River rely on the resiliency of the Upper Basin to recharge the entire river. Scientists from the Bureau of Reclamation have conducted a study to examine and provide options for the increased water demand that the Missouri River Basin faces. With rising temperatures and less snow melt to recharge the Headwaters, concerns are arising about the sustainability of this water supply and how to mitigate overuse of the water itself. For more, see: https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/926655
11/07/21, Arwin Dobber, Ocala, FL – Although studying in Kansas and living in Florida, I was born and raised in the Netherlands. As a densely populated country with one-third of its surface area below sea level and situated at the confluence of three major rivers (Rhine, Meuse, and Schelde), water management takes on a central role in securing the country’s future. Some of the biggest problems the country is facing today include 1) human-induced groundwater table lowering and saltwater intrusion. Most of the country’s coastal deltaic plain used be at about sea level until the 11th century, when the wetlands were reclaimed by draining surface water and lowering the groundwater table. This drainage resulted in a decrease in hydraulic head (and an increase in vertical effective stress), which caused the Holocene peat layers to oxidize and compress (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/328174159_Differential_subsidence_in_the_urbanised_coastal-deltaic_plain_of_the_Netherlands). As a result, large parts of the western Netherlands are now 4 to 7 m below sea level. This subsidence continues into the present with groundwater extraction and droughts being the main drivers. Last year was one of the driest years on record (link to drought (droogte) map: https://www.knmi.nl/nederland-nu/klimatologie/droogtemonitor). Because older buildings (pre-1900s, like those in Amsterdam) are built on wooden foundations that start to rot when exposed to air, the unusually low groundwater tables caused significant damage to many buildings that year. Additionally, since the freshwater lens is relatively thin (<100 m), extracting too much groundwater could bring brackish-saline water up closer to the surface (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S002216941730241X?casa_token=oXuNe9-XQmIAAAAA:MAgfwTQe19Wu81XuXzT1KVcBmdO1o8cYvAskjlQ_OX8P0HPbjGlEE4AZ3O1FdgfZ0Z8_e0g1SA). This is a problem that dates back centuries. According to a Frisian saga (pagan), a town near Stavoren had to be abandoned after all neighboring freshwater wells were turned salty by a dragon.
Fredrick Tarley, originally from Ibera, now living in KC, has conducted his own water balance model...Why is Lake Chad Shrinking? The Lake Chad Basin could be subdivided into two main hydrological sub basins. The Chari-Logone subsystem, which covers approximately 650,000 km2 and hosts the Chari River and the Waza-Logone floodplains. The komadugu-Yobe subsystem, which covers 148,000 km2 but contributes only to 2.5% of the total riverine inflow into Lake Chad ((Boucher, C. et al). the studies of the Lake Chad groundwater system suggest that groundwater in the Middle and the Lower Aquifers is 20,000 or more years old and is not replenished by modern recharge (Lake chad fact sheet - global water partnership - GWP). Concerning the upper aquifer recharge, other studies have highlighted recharges zones in higher areas (Mandara Mountains, Guera and Batha massifs) and in exposed sand dunes areas (Pham-Duc, B., Sylvestre, F., Papa, F., Frappart, F., Bouchez, C., & Crétaux, J.-F). Leakages from three rivers (Yaéré, and Logone Rivers), the Lake Chad and wetlands also contribute to aquifer recharge. However, these latest groundwater recharges have decreased in recent years, mainly due to drought conditions and management decisions in the upstream regions. Sadly, river flows have dropped by 47% and, summing lower precipitation, the total input volume in flowing into the Lake has decreased by 50% (Bouchez, C., & Crétaux, J.-F) The water quality is high on average, although a salinization phenomenon in the North. Lake Chad had two pools, the north and south. The shrinking of Lake chad is observed at the northern pool (Bouchez, C. et al). Based on my research, I came across several factors that is contributing to the shrinking of the lake. First is the decrease of the Komadugu Yobe discharge during the last decade is the driving force to the shrinking of the lake. Secondly, the increase in vegetation in the region of the can also result to a decrease in runoff (Fitts, 2013). In the 1970s, Lake Chad has gotten extremely low with an increase in temperature. Perpetually, vegetation had grown around the lake which have increased to about 30% in the las twenty years. As a result, evaporation in the Lake Chad region had increased over the years and runoff has also decreased especially in the northern pool making it to decrease or shrink gradually (Gao, H. et al. 2011).
Groundwater flow models are critical to understanding contaminant movement, as Dalton Carbaugh ( )points out: Groundwater contamination found in private and public supply wells was discovered proximate to two former Navy bases and an active Air National Guard Station in southeastern Pennsylvania. Perfluorooctanoic acid and perfluorooctane sulfonate were found in concentrations above the United States Environmental Protection Agencies (EPA) health advisory levels. A 2019 publication from the United State Geological Society (USGS) utilized previously collected data regarding the contamination to, “support development and calibration of a numerical model to simulate regional groundwater flow under selection conditions..”. These models provide valuable information in understanding contamination migration with respect to regional groundwater movement. The full report can be found at https://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2019/1137/ofr20191137.pdf
In light of our COP26 discussion, here's more on climate change impacts on groundwater from Dorothy Linneman in Richland, WA -- Washington is not typically the state that comes to mind when thinking about deserts and droughts, but it is easy to forget that the majority of the land area of the state (everything east of the North Cascades) is a dry, desert climate except for rivers and streams supplied by snowmelt in the mountains. This summer, eastern Washington experienced record high temperatures (over 120 degrees Fahrenheit in some places) as well as the worst droughts the state has ever experienced. While there was a reasonable amount of snow last winter, the record heat and lack of spring and summer precipitation significantly reduced recharge to surface bodies as well as groundwater. This record heat and drought led to extreme wildfire danger and many fires burned through the summer and into the fall season. Groundwater wells which have supplied farms and rural areas are pumping dry for the first time. If there is not enough precipitation this fall, many farmers will be faced with significant reductions in yield or rely on expensive water trucked in from outside the region. A La Niña pattern is predicted to affect the northwest this winter and hopefully bring cooler, wetter weather. Read more about it here: https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/drought-hit-washington-hard-and-fast-heres-what-it-has-meant-for-farmers-wildfires/
Ali Vinke (of Kansas City fame), 10/27/21:
11/8/21. We've been talking about COP26 this week. This entry from Ryan Powell illustrates the impacts of energy and water use on aquifers: In southern New Jersey exists the government protected New Jersey Pinelands National Reserve region. The Kirkwood-Cohansey Aquifer lies beneath the Pinelands region and is described as an unconfined aquifer where the surface layer consists of highly permeable sands and gravel with a shallow water table. Fast forward to today, New Jersey face pressures of redevelopment and a recent proposition to install a natural gas pipeline that would run through the protected area. Other threats to the aquifer are the increasing demands for future residential population consumption and increased agricultural use. In the early 2000s, federal and academic researchers investigated the Pinelands region and the effects of groundwater withdrawal from the Kirkwood-Cohansey Aquifer and has drawn several conclusions regarding excessive drawdown and sustainability of the aquifer from human activities.
11/3/21 From Sarah Gundrum, in Wisconsin: One of the main causes of contaminated drinking water in Kewaunee County, WI is the karst topography that dominates the area. Karst topography is created by carbonate bedrock that reacts with and is dissolved by water. Karst topography consists of fractured bedrock (including caves and sinkholes) with glacial deposits on top. Recharge events and precipitation cause contamination, such as manure, to infiltrate the shallow soils and move directly into the groundwater. The carbonate dolomite that dominates the western shore of Lake Michigan creates a unique network of conduits that allow for fast recharge rates of aquifers, yet pose a great health risk. See:
10/21/21: Ethan Hersch (who lives in Long Beach, CA): The California Aqueduct is a concrete channel that runs over 400 miles from the Sacramento – San Juaquin Delta in Central California to Southern California. The aqueduct provides water to Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Kern, San Luis Obispo Counties. Over pumping of groundwater for agricultural irrigation throughout the Central Valley has led to significant subsidence and ultimately has decreased the efficiency of the aqueduct by over 20%. Recent studies have indicated that historic disposal of oil production wastewater from hydraulic fracturing in production water ponds near the Lost Hills Oil Field now threaten to migrate into the aqueduct. The wastewater has migrated from the unlined ponds through the alluvium and ultimately through the Corcoran Clay layer and into the regional groundwater aquifer toward the aqueduct.. The article at (https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.est.1c02056) focuses on "Section 29" which is near Lost Hills, CA about 40 miles south of Corcoran, CA. Perhaps I should move.
9/9/21, Dorothy Linneman, Richland, WA -- During World War II, most of the plutonium used to create nuclear weapons was produced and processed at the Hanford Site in southeastern Washington state. The Hanford site is located only about 30 miles north of a population of about 300,000 people (Tri Cities, WA), and the Columbia River runs through the site. While there is no active plutonium production at the site anymore, there is a large amount of waste in buried tanks as well as directly in the sediments below the site. Recently it was discovered that one of the large tanks holding radioactive waste underground is actively leaking into the subsurface: https://www.tri-cityherald.com/news/local/hanford/article251017489.html. While official estimates predict that the waste would take more than 25 years to reach groundwater, it may still pose a risk to the groundwater feeding the Columbia river if successful remediation is not completed. Contamination mitigation is one of the primary missions of the Hanford site and contractors supporting it, including Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. (MKS: Dorothy works at this lab as a geophysicist!)