Proposed expansion of extractive lime-rock mines near the Miami–Dade County Northwest well field and Everglades wetland areas has garnered intense scrutiny by government, public, environmental stakeholders, and the media because of concern that mining will increase the risk of pathogen contamination. Rock mines are excavated to the same depth as the well field's primary producing zone. The underlying karst Biscayne aquifer is a triple-porosity system characterized by (1) a matrix of interparticle porosity and separate vug porosity; (2) touching-vug porosity that forms preferred, stratiform passageways; and, less commonly, (3) conduit porosity formed by thin solution pipes, bedding-plane vugs, and cavernous vugs. Existing ground-water flow and particle tracking models do not provide adequate information regarding the ability of the aquifer to limit the advective movement of pathogens and other contaminants. Chemical transport and colloidal mobility properties have been delineated using conservative and microsphere-surrogate tracers for Cryptosporidium parvum. Forced-gradient tests were executed by introducing conservative tracers into injection wells located 100 m (328 ft) from a municipal-supply well. Apparent mean advective velocity between the wells is one to two orders of magnitude greater than previously measured. Touching-vug, stratiform flow zones are efficient pathways for tracer movement at the well field. The effective porosity for a continuum model between the point of injection and tracer recovery ranges from 2 to 4 percent and is an order of magnitude smaller than previously assumed. Existing well-field protection zones were established using porosity estimates based on specific yield. The effective, or kinematic, porosity of a Biscayne aquifer continuum model is lower than the total porosity, because high velocities occur along preferential flow paths that result in faster times of travel than can be represented with the ground-water flow equation. Tracer tests indicate that the relative ease of contaminant movement to municipal supply wells is much greater than previously considered.

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