Groundwater flow pattern in the Ruataniwha Plains as derived from the isotope and chemistry signature of the water

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Morgenstern, U.; van der Raaij, R.W.; Baalousha, H. 2012 Groundwater flow pattern in the Ruataniwha Plains as derived from the isotope and chemistry signature of the water. Lower Hutt, N.Z.: GNS Science. GNS Science report 2012/23 44 p.

Abstract: The Ruataniwha Basin is situated in the upper Tukituki catchment, approximately 70 km south west of Napier City. The boundaries of the Ruataniwha Basin are the foothills of the Ruahine Range in the west, Turiri Range and Raukawa Range in the east and rolling hills in the north. The Ruataniwha Plains groundwater system is a multi-layered aquifer system that has a complex hydrogeological setting, as the plains evolved in response to sea-level changes, tectonic activity, and geomorphic processes. Aquifers in the basin occur in gravel, sandstone, pumice and limestone strata within a basin structure. In this study, groundwater samples have been collected for hydrochemistry, dissolved gases, and age tracer analysis. Tracer results were interpreted in terms of groundwater recharge source and rate, groundwater age, changes in groundwater source, and the homogeneity of the aquifers. This helps with conceptual understanding of Ruataniwha Basin groundwater flow patterns, and provides data for calibration of a numerical surface-groundwater flow model. Most water samples across the Ruataniwha Basin contain old water, with a mean residence time (MRT) > 25 years. The old age of most of the waters indicates that these groundwaters are not directly linked to surface water. In the south eastern part of the basin, all groundwater samples are old (>100 years), indicating slow movement of groundwater and slow recharge, consistent with the geology of the area. In the south eastern part of the basin the geologic units have low permeability. The age depth relationship is biased by upwelling groundwater and reflects the closed nature of the basin. The average vertical flow velocity indicates a recharge rate of 0.19 m/y. Four wells in the vicinity of the lower Waipawa River show excellent age-depth relationships, indicating absence of disturbance by groundwater upwelling. The recharge rate there of 0.42 m/y is substantially higher than in the other parts of the basin, indicating river recharge in addition to recharge by rain. Hydrochemistry data for the Ruataniwha Basin show high variability in space and time, consistent with the complicated hydrogeological setting, which consists of multi-layered aquifer systems in different lithologic strata and pockets of gravels. The use of a combination of water isotopes (18O and 2H), dissolved gases (Ar and N2), and hierarchical cluster analysis of the hydrochemistry parameters allowed characterisation of the recharge source for most of the groundwater samples. Only groundwaters in the vicinity of the large rivers (Waipawa and Tukituki) show river recharge source a signature, indicating gravel deposits connecting the present river bed to the deep groundwater flow system along these rivers. River-recharged groundwater is observed only in the lower reaches of these rivers, downstream from losing stretches of the rivers. Oxic groundwater is present only in the vicinity of the Waipawa River, indicat ing that only this river has deposited relatively clean gravel aquifers (without organic matter that would otherwise deplete the oxygen). All the groundwaters in the southern part of the basin in the vicinity of small rivers and streams show a pure rain recharge signature. This indicates that there is little connection of rivers and streams there to the deep groundwater system in this area. All samples follow similar and consistent trends of hydrochemistry versus age, indicating that, despite the complex structure of the groundwater system with localised heterogeneity at basin-wide scale, groundwater in the basin overall has a homogenous flow pattern. (auth/kc)