Case study of contaminated groundwater discharge: How in situ tools link an evolving conceptual site model with management decisions



In this paper, we show how simple in situ tools provide key insights into groundwater transport and exposure pathways. We illustrate how integration between managers, hydrogeologists, and ecologists, through the use of an evolving conceptual site model, helps direct management decisions. An initial conceptual site model was used to guide a preliminary investigation to determine the extent to which contaminant exposure from discharging groundwater occurs in a waterway. Regulatory agency managers, informed by phased input of data, supported extending the site investigation subtidally to identify the nature and extent of waterway contamination and to provide the basis for developing remedial alternatives. Approaches and tools used in this reconnaissance investigation included monitoring ambient surface water for groundwater signatures, installing minipiezometers within the sediment, and installing diffusion samplers and seepage meters. Despite high concentrations of contaminants in nearby piezometer samples, the diffusion sampler array indicated few locations with contaminant accumulation in the top 20 cm of the sediment. At the location where deployed, seepage meters demonstrated a high degree of connectivity and the potential for mass loading in the waterway. In the collective experience of the authors, this is one of the 1st sites where this comprehensive suite of tools has been applied in a regulatory setting to evaluate the movement of industrial contaminants beneath and into a waterway. This approach was effective because of integration of disciplines, unification of previously separate groundwater and sediment investigations, and collaboration across separate agencies and programs. In large part because of the results, the facility and agency managers agreed, and have begun a comprehensive subtidal investigation, to characterize the distribution of sediment and groundwater contamination and to quantify the groundwater flux to the surface water.