Main content area

Behavior of major and trace elements in a transient surface water/groundwater system following removal of a long-term wastewater treatment facility source

Keefe, S.H., Barber, L.B., Hubbard, L.E., Bradley, P.M., Roth, D.A., Kolpin, D.W.
The Science of the total environment 2019 v.668 pp. 867-880
alluvial aquifer, aluminum, antimony, aquatic environment, arsenic, barium, boron, calcium, copper, desorption, gadolinium, groundwater, hyporheic zone, iron, lead, magnesium, manganese, molybdenum, municipal wastewater, principal component analysis, sediments, silica, sodium, sorption, stream flow, streams, strontium, surface water, wastewater treatment, water quality, water table, zinc, Iowa
In many aquatic environments, municipal wastewater treatment facility (WWTF) effluent discharges influence local hydrologic and chemical connectivity between the surface-water and adjacent alluvial shallow-groundwater systems. Fourmile Creek located in Polk County, Iowa received effluent from the Ankeny WWTF for nearly forty years before it was shut down in November 2013. The decommissioning of the municipal WWTF provided a unique opportunity to characterize the recovery from impacts of treated wastewater discharge on water quality at the surface-water/groundwater interface in a shallow, unconfined alluvial aquifer.Dissolved major element and trace element concentrations in Fourmile Creek surface water, hyporheic-zone water, and shallow, unconfined groundwater were monitored upstream and downstream from the WWTF discharge before and after the shutdown. Multivariate statistical techniques including principal component analysis (PCA) and agglomerative hierarchical clustering (AHC) were used to differentiate source-water contributions, characterize elemental components, and describe surface-water/groundwater interaction dynamics. During the post-closure assessment, there was subsurface attenuation of wastewater constituents including Al, B, Cu, Gd, K, Mo, Na, P, Pb, Sb, and Zn. During the same time, groundwater concentrations increased for As, Ba, Ca, Fe, Mg, Mn, SiO2, Sr, and U and represented a profile characteristic of the shallow alluvial aquifer. Hydrologic conditions transitioned from predominantly wastewater infiltration and hyporheic exchange before the WWTF shutdown, to predominantly discharge of native groundwater. Precipitation-driven streamflow events created fluctuations in the groundwater water-table elevations, resulting in variable contact between the saturated and unsaturated zones within the unconfined, alluvial aquifer and intermittent exposure to constituents stored in the sediments. The inorganic fingerprint of municipal wastewater was flushed relatively quickly (≤19 weeks) from the hyporheic zone indicating that processes like diffusion or sorption/desorption that might extend recovery may not be important for many trace elements in this system.