Geochemistry and Microbiology of Iron-related Well-screen Encrustation and Aquifer Biofouling in Suffolk County, Long Island, New York
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AuthorWalter, Donald A.
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AbstractIron-related well-screen encrustation and aquifer biofouling has decreased the specific capacity of several production wells in Suffolk County, N.Y., and has forced the Suffolk County Water Authority to adopt a costly well-reconditioning and replacement program. The specific-capacity declines are the result of the precipitation of iron oxyhydroxides and the growth of iron bacteria on the well screens and in the pore spaces of the surrounding formation. Mineralogic and chemical analyses indicate that the inorganic part of the encrusting material consists primarily of amorphous ferric hydroxide (Fe(OH)3 ); minor components of the material include goethite (FeOOH), hematite (Fe2 O 3 ), and quartz (SiO 2 ). The weight percent of ferric hydroxide in the material ranged from 32.3 to 98.6 percent and averaged 64.3 percent. Equilibrium modeling indicated that during pumping the well waters were supersaturated with respect to goethite, hematite, magnetite, and quartz and were under-saturated with respect to ferric hydroxide. Theoretical Eh values computed for the ferrous/ferric-iron redox couple and the oxygen/water redox couple averaged 390 millivolts and 810 millivolts, respectively, indicating that the waters were in a state of redox disequilibrium. The disequilibrium condition arises from the mixing of ground water with a low dissolved-oxygen concentration with oxygenated ground water during operation of the well. The low pH of the ground water contributes to the disequilibrium condition by slowing the rate of iron oxidation after the introduction of oxygen. Chemical and mineralogical data indicate that most of the encrusting material in the wells was deposited while the wells were shut down, probably in response to the use of treated water of higher pH to keep pump turbines wet while the wells were not in operation; the increased pH of water in the static water column increases the rate of ferrous-iron oxidation and causes the well water to become increasingly saturated with respect to ferric hydroxide. The median half-time of oxidation in samples of untreated ground water (pH 4-5) was 4.19 days, whereas the average half-time of oxidation in treated water (pH 7-8) was 11.9 minutes Equilibrium modeling indicated that treated waters generally were supersaturated with respect to ferric hydroxide, whereas untreated well waters were not. Field and laboratory data indicate that iron bacteria play an important role in the encrustation and biofouling process in Suffolk County. Filamentous iron bacteria were common in the affected wells. The most common species was Gallionella ferruginea, an effective biofouling agent that prefers water with low, but detectable, dissolved-oxygen concentrations and high dissolved-iron concentrations; this species was more common in biofilm samples from the Magothy aquifer than in those from the upper glacial aquifer. Iron bacteria also were found in sediment cores from several locations in the aquifer and in drilling water. Lignite could act as a carbon source for heterotrophic iron bacteria, which could accelerate the formation of iron-bacteria biofilms in wells screened in some parts of the Magothy aquifer. Iron-bacteria biofilms alter the chemistry of well water by removing iron, manganese, and sulfate from solution and by increasing the pH. Sulfur-reducing bacteria and iron-sulfide mineral phases were observed in some samples of encrusting material, indicating that these bacteria could contribute to well-screen encrustation in some geochemical environments.
DescriptionUSGS Water-Resources Investigations Report: 97-4032