Water Center



McGuire 0000-0002-3962-4158

Ryter 0000-0002-2488-626X

Date of this Version



United States Geological Survey, Scientific Investigations Report 2012-5036

doi: 10.3133/sir20125036



United States government work


The United States Geological Survey (USGS), in cooperation with the Papio-Missouri River Natural Resources District (PMRNRD), conducted this study to map the water-level altitude of 2009 within the Elkhorn River Valley, Missouri River Valley, and Platte River Valley alluvial aquifers; to present the predevelopment potentiometric-surface altitude within the Dakota aquifer; and to describe the age and quality of groundwater in the five principal aquifers of the PMRNRD in eastern Nebraska using data collected from 1992 to 2009. In addition, implications of alternatives to the current PMRNRD groundwater-quality monitoring approach are discussed.

In the PMRNRD, groundwater altitude, relative to National Geodetic Vertical Datum of 1929, ranged from about 1,080 feet (ft) to 1,180 ft in the Elkhorn River Valley alluvial aquifer and from about 960 ft to 1,080 ft in the Missouri River Valley and Platte River Valley alluvial aquifers. In the PMRNRD, the estimated altitude of the potentiometric surface of the Dakota aquifer, predevelopment, ranged from about 1,100 ft to 1,200 ft.

To assess groundwater age and quality, groundwater samples were collected from a total of 217 wells from 1992 to 2009 for analysis of various analytes. Groundwater samples collected in the PMRNRD from 1992 to 2009 and interpreted in this report were analyzed for age-dating analytes (chlorofluorocarbons), dissolved gases, major ions, trace elements, nutrients, stable isotope ratios, pesticides and pesticide degradates, volatile organic compounds, explosives, and 222radon.

Apparent groundwater age was estimated from concentrations of chlorofluorocarbons measured in samples collected in 2000. Apparent groundwater-recharge dates ranged from older than 1940 in samples from wells screened in the Missouri River Valley alluvial aquifer to the early 1980s in samples from wells screened in the Dakota aquifer.

Concentrations of major ions in the most recent sample per well collected from 1992 to 2009 indicate that the predominant water type was calcium bicarbonate. Samples from 4 wells exceeded the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Secondary Drinking Water Regulation (SDWR) for sulfate [250 milligrams per liter (mg/L)], and samples from 4 wells exceeded the EPA Drinking Water Advisory Table for sodium (30–60 mg/L).

Eighteen of the 21 trace elements analyzed in samples from PMRNRD wells have EPA drinking-water standards. Sixteen of the trace elements with EPA standards were detected in the selected samples. In the samples selected for trace-element analysis, the only trace-element concentration that exceeded an enforceable EPA drinking-water standard, the Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL), was for arsenic; arsenic concentration exceeded the EPA MCL of 10 micrograms per liter (μg/L) in 4 percent of the samples. Trace-element concentrations that exceeded the EPA SDWR or Lifetime Health Advisory level were iron (46 percent of the samples were greater than EPA SDWR of 300 μg/L), manganese (70 percent of the samples were greater than EPA SDWR of 50 μg/L), and strontium (4 percent of the samples were greater than EPA Lifetime Health Advisory level of 4,000 μg/L).

The concentration of nitrate plus nitrite as nitrogen (nitrate-N) in the most recent nutrient samples collected from the network wells and from one randomly selected well in the well nests from 1992 to 2009 for most wells (80 percent) ranged from less than 0.06 to 8.55 mg/L, with a median value of 0.12 mg/L. Concentrations of nitrate-N in 13 (7 percent) nutrient samples, 1992 to 2009, were greater than or equal to the EPA MCL and Nebraska Title-118 standard of 10 mg/L, and concentrations of nitrate-N in 35 (18 percent) nutrient samples, 1992 to 2009, were greater than or equal to 5 mg/L, which is the PMRNRD action level for possible management implementation to reduce nitrate concentrations in groundwater.

Of the 61 pesticides or pesticide degradates analyzed from 2007 to 2009, 21 were detected. Three of the 21 pesticides detected (alachlor, atrazine, and metolachlor) have established health-based criteria; all detections of these compounds were at concentrations less than their EPA standards. From 2007 to 2009, 1 or more pesticide compounds were detected in 16 of the 82 network wells and in 18 of the 26 wells in well nests. From 2007 to 2009, the individual pesticide compounds that were detected most frequently were alachlor ethane sulfonic acid, a degradate of alachlor; deethylcyanazine acid, a degradate of cyanazine; and atrazine.

Analytes with concentrations that exceeded 30 percent of the applicable Nebraska Title-118 standard were identified so that the PMRNRD can plan to monitor groundwater in the area and consider possible actions should the analyte concentrations continue to rise. The analytical results from the most recent samples collected in the network wells and all the wells in well nests from 1992 to 2009 indicate that, in at least 1 sample, there was a concentration that exceeded 30 percent of the Nebraska Title-118 standard for at least 1 of 3 major ions (chloride, fluoride, and sulfate), 1 nutrient (nitrate-N), 1 pesticide (atrazine), or 3 trace elements (arsenic, iron, and manganese). In addition, 30 percent of the EPA MCL or Nebraska Title-118 standard for gross alpha activity likely was exceeded in samples from three wells screened in the Dakota aquifer. Study findings indicate that some alternatives to the current PMRNRD groundwater-sampling approach that could be considered are to collect fewer samples for nutrient analysis and to collect samples periodically for determining concentrations of additional analytes, particularly the analytes with concentrations that were at least 30 percent or more than the Nebraska Title-118 standard.

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