Modeling stream-groundwater interactions and associated groundwater salinization in an urban floodplain

Monday, 15 December 2014
Sarah Holderness Ledford and Laura Lautz, Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY, United States
The salinization of freshwater in the Northeastern United States from road salt application is well documented by the observed long-term increases in chloride concentrations in groundwater over the last fifty years. However, the processes controlling exchange of chloride between surface water and groundwater have not been fully investigated, particularly in urban streams where stream-groundwater interactions can be reduced due to bank armoring and channelization. Our research builds on previous findings that showed the potential for an urban riparian floodplain to buffer seasonal changes in chloride concentrations in an urban stream, resulting in smaller annual ranges of chloride in areas with intact riparian floodplains. A reach of Meadowbrook Creek, in Syracuse, New York, that is disconnected from the groundwater had large seasonal shifts in chloride concentration, varying from 2173 mg/L Cl- in the winter to 161.2 mg/L Cl- in the summer. This is in contrast to a downstream reach of the stream that receives groundwater discharge from a riparian floodplain, where chloride concentrations ranged from 657.0 mg/L in the winter to 252.0 mg/L in the summer. We originally hypothesized that winter snowmelt events caused overbank flooding of saline surface water, which recharged the floodplain groundwater, causing salinization. This saline water was then slowly discharged as baseflow throughout the year and was replaced with freshwater overbank events in the summer. However, a three dimensional model of the floodplain created using Visual MODFLOW indicates that surface water-groundwater interactions, such as hyporheic exchange, may have a greater control on winter salt input than overbank events, while summer flooding recharges the aquifer with freshwater. The model was compared to riparian aquifer samples collected from May 2013 until June 2014 to qualitatively study the impact of different types of surface water-groundwater interactions (e.g. groundwater recharge and discharge, hyporheic interaction) on salt storage and to identify the mechanisms by which urban riparian floodplains buffer seasonal variability of stream chloride concentrations in urban systems impacted by road salt.