Non-intrusive characterization methods for wastewater-affected groundwater plumes discharging to an alpine lake
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Streams and lakes in rocky environments are especially susceptible to nutrient loading from wastewater-affected groundwater plumes. However, the use of invasive techniques such as drilling wells, installing piezometers or seepage meters, to detect and characterize these plumes can be prohibitive. In this work, we report on the use of four non-intrusive methods for this purpose at a site in the Rocky Mountains. The methods included non-invasive geophysical surveys of subsurface electrical conductivity (EC), in-situ EC measurement of discharging groundwater at the lake-sediment interface, shoreline water sampling and nutrient analysis, and shoreline periphyton sampling and analysis of biomass and taxa relative abundance. The geophysical surveys were able to detect and delineate two high-EC plumes, with capacitively coupled ERI (OhmMapper) providing detailed two-dimensional images. In situ measurements at the suspected discharge locations confirmed the presence of high-EC water in the two plumes and corroborated their spatial extent. The nutrient and periphyton results showed that only one of the two high-EC plumes posed a current eutrophication threat, with elevated nitrogen and phosphorus levels, high localized periphyton biomass and major shifts in taxonomic composition to taxa that are commonly associated with anthropogenic nutrient loading. This study highlights the need to use non-intrusive methods in combination, with geophysical and water EC-based methods used for initial detection of wastewater-affected groundwater plumes, and nutrient or periphyton sampling used to characterize their ecological effects.