A framework for modeling contaminant impacts on reservoir water quality

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Published in: Journal of Hydrology, vol. 537, 2016


This study presents a framework for using hydrodynamic and water quality models to understand the fate and transport of potential contaminants in a reservoir and to develop appropriate emergency response and remedial actions. In the event of an emergency situation, prior detailed modeling efforts and scenario evaluations allow for an understanding of contaminant plume behavior, including maximum concentrations that could occur at the drinking water intake and contaminant travel time to the intake. A case study assessment of the Wachusett Reservoir, a major drinking water supply for metropolitan Boston, MA, provides an example of an application of the framework and how hydrodynamic and water quality models can be used to quantitatively and scientifically guide management in response to varieties of contaminant scenarios. The model CE-QUAL-W2 was used to investigate the water quality impacts of several hypothetical contaminant scenarios, including hypothetical fecal coliform input from a sewage overflow as well as an accidental railway spill of ammonium nitrate. Scenarios investigated the impacts of decay rates, season, and inter-reservoir transfers on contaminant arrival times and concentrations at the drinking water intake. The modeling study highlights the importance of a rapid operational response by managers to contain a contaminant spill in order to minimize the mass of contaminant that enters the water column, based on modeled reservoir hydrodynamics. The development and use of hydrodynamic and water quality models for surface drinking water sources subject to the potential for contaminant entry can provide valuable guidance for making decisions about emergency response and remediation actions.