Geophysical Detection of On-site Wastewater Plumes in the North Carolina Coastal Plain, USA
Nonpoint source pollution (NPS) continues to be the leading cause of water quality degradation in the United States. On-site wastewater systems (OWS) contribute to NPS; however, due to the range of system designs and complexity of the subsurface, OWS contributions to groundwater pollution are not well understood. As the population of coastal North Carolina continues to increase, better methods to locate and characterize wastewater impacted groundwater are needed. Previous studies have demonstrated the ability of non-intrusive geophysical methods to provide high resolution information on various contaminants in different geologic settings. The goals of this study were to evaluate the utility of ground penetrating radar (GPR) and capacitively coupled resistivity (CCR) for detecting OWS components, delineating associated wastewater plumes, and monitoring temporal variations in groundwater quality. Cross-sectional and three dimensional (3D) geophysical surveys were conducted periodically over a one year period (February 2011 - January 2012) at two schools utilizing OWS in the lower Neuse River Basin (NRB) in the North Carolina Coastal Plain (NCCP). Cores were collected at both study sites; as well as monthly groundwater depth, temperature, and specific conductivity measurements to better constrain the geophysical interpretations. Additionally, dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) and Cl concentrations were monitored bi-monthly to assess nutrient transport at the sites. The 3D GPR surveys effectively located the wastewater drainage trenches at both sites, in close agreement with locations described in as-built OWS blueprints. Regression analysis of resistivity versus groundwater specific conductivity revealed an inverse relationship, suggesting resistivity [less than or equal to] 250 ohm.m was indicative of wastewater impacted groundwater at both sites. The 3D resistivity models identified regions of low resistivity beneath the drainfields relative to background values. Regression analysis of GPR signal absolute peak amplitude (APA) versus groundwater specific conductivity revealed a decrease in APA indicative of radar signal attenuation at locations where groundwater specific conductivity was elevated. The 3D GPR models identified regions of attenuated radar signal beneath the drainfields relative to background locations. Comparisons of groundwater specific conductivity, GPR, and CCR lateral wastewater plume estimates indicated similar dimensions at both sites. The sensitivity of resistivity measurements tended to decline with increased water-table depth; although, differences in resistivity associated with seasonal water-table depth changes were noticeable. Overall, results of this study suggest that GPR and CCR surveys combined with sediment, hydrologic, and water quality data may provide reliable information on the location of OWS components and extent of associated wastewater plumes. The GPR surveys successfully located the wastewater drainage trenches and helped image the uppermost surface of the wastewater plumes. The CCR surveys delineated the lateral wastewater plume dimensions and revealed temporal changes in groundwater quality associated with differences in groundwater recharge.
Smith, Matthew. (January 2014). Geophysical Detection of On-site Wastewater Plumes in the North Carolina Coastal Plain, USA (Master's Thesis, East Carolina University). Retrieved from the Scholarship. (http://hdl.handle.net/10342/4443.)
Smith, Matthew. Geophysical Detection of On-site Wastewater Plumes in the North Carolina Coastal Plain, USA. Master's Thesis. East Carolina University, January 2014. The Scholarship. http://hdl.handle.net/10342/4443. September 30, 2023.
Smith, Matthew, “Geophysical Detection of On-site Wastewater Plumes in the North Carolina Coastal Plain, USA” (Master's Thesis., East Carolina University, January 2014).
Smith, Matthew. Geophysical Detection of On-site Wastewater Plumes in the North Carolina Coastal Plain, USA [Master's Thesis]. Greenville, NC: East Carolina University; January 2014.
East Carolina University