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Recharge and discharge controls on groundwater travel times and flow paths to production wells for the Ammer catchment in southwestern Germany


Travel times and flow paths of groundwater from its recharge area to drinking-water production wells will govern how the quality of pumped groundwater responds to contaminations. Here, we studied the 180 km2 Ammer catchment in southwestern Germany, which is extensively used for groundwater production from a carbonate aquifer. Using a 3-D steady-state groundwater model, four alternative representations of discharge and recharge were systematically explored to understand their impact on groundwater travel times and flow paths. More specifically, two recharge maps obtained from different German hydrologic atlases and two plausible alternative discharge scenarios were tested: (1) groundwater flow across the entire streambed of the Ammer River and its main tributaries and (2) groundwater discharge via a few major springs feeding the Ammer River. For each of these scenarios, the groundwater model was first calibrated against water levels, and subsequently travel times and flow paths were calculated for production wells using particle tracking methods. These computed travel times and flow paths were indirectly evaluated using additional data from the wells including measured concentrations of major ions and environmental tracers indicating groundwater age. Different recharge scenarios resulted in a comparable fit to observed water levels, and similar estimates of hydraulic conductivities, flow paths and travel times of groundwater to production wells. Travel times calculated for all scenarios had a plausible order of magnitude which were comparable to apparent groundwater ages modelled using environmental tracers. Scenario with groundwater discharge across the entire streambed of the Ammer River and its tributaries resulted in a better fit to water levels than scenario with discharge at a few springs only. In spite of the poorer fit to water levels, flow paths of groundwater from the latter scenario were more plausible, and these were supported by the observed major ion chemistry at the production wells. We concluded that data commonly used in groundwater modelling such as water levels and apparent groundwater ages may be insufficient to reliably delineate capture zones of wells. Hydrogeochemical information relating only indirectly to groundwater flow such as the major ion chemistry of water sampled at the wells can substantially improve our understanding of the source areas of recharge for production wells.

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This work was supported by a grant from the Ministry of Science, Research and Arts of Baden-Württemberg (AZ Zu 33-721.3-2) and the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research, Leipzig (UFZ). We would like to thank Dr. Marc Schwientek and Dr. Karsten Osenbrück (Water & Earth System Science), Bernhard Keim (engineering company kup), Andreas Steinacker (consulting company BGU) and Inge Neeb (city council of Sindelfingen) for technical discussions. We also thank the Ammertal-Schönbuchgruppe (local water supplier) for providing data, Igor Pavlovskiy for providing Fig. 5 and analysing water quality data using PHREEQC and Dr. Wenqing Wang and Dr. Jens-Olaf Delfs for OGS support. We are grateful for the detailed comments provided by 3 reviewers based on which the manuscript could be significantly improved.

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Selle, B., Rink, K. & Kolditz, O. Recharge and discharge controls on groundwater travel times and flow paths to production wells for the Ammer catchment in southwestern Germany. Environ Earth Sci 69, 443–452 (2013).

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  • WESS
  • Water Earth System Science
  • OpenGeoSys
  • OGS