Scientists study flow of groundwater into bays. Results may help track pollution.
On a small, homemade barge, built from the skeleton of an old ship, a gray slurry of bay bottom sand flows out of a pipe into a bucket. Two scientists, a well driller and two student interns drill a hole in the floor of the Indian River Bay. They’ll install a very long pipe into the hole and use it to monitor groundwater – how much flows into the bay, how salty it is and how many nutrients it carries with it.
The results of this investigation of the Columbia aquifer in coastal Sussex County, Delaware, provide some of the data necessary to evaluate the condition of the area's primary source of fresh water. Chemical analyses of water samples from domestic, agricultural, public, and monitoring wells document the effects of past and present land use practices. Groundwater flow paths and flow systems are inferred from flow-net analysis, ground-water chemistry, and isotopic composition.
The results of water-budget and flow-net model calculations indicate that the rate of fresh ground-water discharge into Rehoboth and Indian River bays is in the range of 21 to 43 million gallons per day. The estimates should be used only as gross indicators of actual conditions because of data gaps and the simplifying assumptions used in the models. However, the estimated discharge rates are significant and useful studies of the water budget of the Bays.