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Colorado Water Science Center

DISTRIBUTION OF TERMINAL ELECTRON-ACCEPTING PROCESSES IN AN AQUIFER HAVING MULTIPLE CONTAMINANT SOURCES

National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program
South Platte River Basin Study

by Peter B. McMahon and Bret W. Bruce 1

ABSTRACT

Concentrations of electron acceptors, electron donors, and H2 in groundwater were measured to determine the distribution of terminal electron-accepting processes (TEAPs) in an alluvial aquifer having multiple contaminant sources. Upgradient contaminant sources included two separate hydrocarbon point sources, one of which contained the fuel oxygenate methyl tertbutyl ether (MTBE). Infiltrating river water was a source of dissolved NO3, SO4 and organic carbon (DOC) to the downgradient part of the aquifer. Groundwater downgradient from the MTBE source had larger concentrations of electron acceptors (dissolved O2 and SO4) and smaller concentrations of TEAP end products (dissolved inorganic C, FE2+ and CH4) than groundwater downgradient from the other hydrocarbon source, suggesting that MTBE was not as suitable for supporting TEAPs as the other hydrocarbons. Measurements of dissolved H2 indicated that SO4 reduction predominated in the aquifer during a period of high water levels in the aquifer and river. The predominant TEAP shifted to FE3+ reduction in upgradient areas after water levels receded but remained SO4 reducing downgradient near the river. This distribution of TEAPs is the opposite of what is commonly observed in aquifers having a single contaminant point source and probably reflects the input of DOC and SO4 to the aquifer from the river. Results of this study indicate that the distribution of TEAPs in aquifers having multiple contaminant sources depends on the composition and location of the contaminants and on the availability of electron acceptors.

1 U.S. Geological Survey, Box 25046, MS 415, Denver Federal Center, Lakewood, CO 80225

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