10. On the efficacy of monitoring wells in karstic carbonate aquifers
Published:January 01, 2016
The results of seven case studies by the author, colleagues, and graduate students performed at contaminated sites indicate that monitoring wells and piezometers installed in karstic carbonate aquifers often yield unreliable data. These devices more often gave misleading than useful information concerning aquifer properties, groundwater flow, and contaminant movement. These findings are in accord with the highly anisotropic and heterogeneous nature of these aquifers. The following cautions are provided when monitoring wells are to be used in karstic carbonate regions. (1) Monitoring wells may be unreliable in detecting contaminant releases. (2) A monitoring well that detects a contaminant is unlikely to provide valid data regarding the quantity of the release or the velocity and direction of the contaminant movement. (3) Water levels measured in wells often give erroneous indications of groundwater flow direction. (4) Well water levels and chemical parameters taken at random or traditional quarterly calendar intervals give little insight into the fluctuations that may actually occur in the well. (5) Head fluctuations in wells in response to nearby pumping or injection do not necessarily indicate flow connections. (6) Traditional well tests in carbonate aquifers typically do not sense the most important elements of the permeability structure. (7) Virtually every well in a carbonate aquifer is influenced by a unique suite of permeability and recharge elements.
In spite of their manifest shortcomings in carbonate aquifers, monitoring wells are specified by law in virtually every case where contaminants may be or have been released. Unfortunately, these wells are usually placed using criteria appropriate for granular aquifers. Alternative and more appropriate means of aquifer assessment and monitoring in these aquifers are available, including wells augmented with tracer investigations and the use of springs and other access points to the conduit elements of the porosity system.