Journal of contaminant hydrology

The impact of on-site wastewater from high density cluster developments on groundwater quality.

PMID 26331764


The net impact on groundwater quality from high density clusters of unsewered housing across a range of hydro(geo)logical settings has been assessed. Four separate cluster development sites were selected, each representative of different aquifer vulnerability categories. Groundwater samples were collected on a monthly basis over a two year period for chemical and microbiological analysis from nested multi-horizon sampling boreholes upstream and downstream of the study sites. The field results showed no statistically significant difference between upstream and downstream water quality at any of the study areas, although there were higher breakthroughs in contaminants in the High and Extreme vulnerability sites linked to high intensity rainfall events; these however, could not be directly attributed to on-site effluent. Linked numerical models were then built for each site using HYDRUS 2D to simulate the attenuation of contaminants through the unsaturated zone from which the resulting hydraulic and contaminant fluxes at the water table were used as inputs into MODFLOW MT3D models to simulate the groundwater flows. The results of the simulations confirmed the field observations at each site, indicating that the existing clustered on-site wastewater discharges would only cause limited and very localised impacts on groundwater quality, with contaminant loads being quickly dispersed and diluted downstream due to the relatively high groundwater flow rates. Further simulations were then carried out using the calibrated models to assess the impact of increasing cluster densities revealing little impact at any of the study locations up to a density of 6 units/ha with the exception of the Extreme vulnerability site.