Age of irrigation water in ground water from the Eastern Snake River Plain Aquifer, south-central Idaho

L. N. Plummer, M. G. Rupert, E. Busenberg, P. Schlosser

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

69 Scopus citations


Stable isotope data (2H and 18O) were used in conjunction with chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) and tritium/helium-3 (3H/3He) data to determine the fraction and age of irrigation water in ground water mixtures from farmed parts of the Eastern Snake River Plain (ESRP) Aquifer in south-central Idaho. Two groups of waters were recognized: (1) regional background water, unaffected by irrigation and fertilizer application, and (2) mixtures of irrigation water from the Snake River with regional background water. New data are presented comparing CFC and 3H/3He dating of water recharged through deep fractured basalt, and dating of young fractions in ground water mixtures. The 3H/3He ages of irrigation water in most mixtures ranged from about zero to eight years. The CFC ages of irrigation water in mixtures ranged from values near those based on 3H/3He dating to values biased older than the 3H/3He ages by as much as eight to 10 years. Unsaturated zone air had CFC-12 and CFC-113 concentrations that were 60% to 95%, and 50% to 90%, respectively, of modern air concentrations and were consistently contaminated with CFC-11. Irrigation water diverted from the Snake River was contaminated with CFC-11 but near solubility equilibrium with CFC-12 and CFC-113. The dating indicates ground water velocities of 5 to 8 m/d for water along the top of the ESRP Aquifer near the southwestern boundary of the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory (INEEL). Many of the regional background waters contain excess terrigenic helium with a 3He/4He isotope ratio of 7 x 10-6 to 11 x 10-6 (R/R(a) ≃ 5 to 8) and could not be dated. Ratios of CFC data indicate that some rangeland water may contain as much as 5% to 30% young water (ages of less than or equal to two to 11.5 years) mixed with old regional background water. The relatively low residence times of ground water in irrigated parts of the ESRP Aquifer and the dilution with low-NO3-irrigation water from the Snake River lower the potential for NO3- contamination in agricultural areas.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)264-283
Number of pages20
JournalGround Water
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2000
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology
  • Computers in Earth Sciences


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