Groundwater Flow in an Arsenic-Contaminated Aquifer, Mekong Delta, Cambodia

Shawn G. Benner, Boise State University
Matthew L. Polizzotto, Stanford University
Benjamin D. Kocar, Stanford University
Somenath Ganguly, Boise State University
Kongkea Phan, Kien Svay
Kagna Ouch, Kien Svay
Michael Sampson, Kien Svay
Scott Fendorf, Stanford University


To advance understanding of hydrological influences on As concentrations within groundwaters of Southeast Asia, the flow system of an As-rich aquifer on the Mekong Delta in Cambodia where flow patterns have not been disturbed by irrigation well pumping was examined. Monitoring of water levels in a network of installed wells, extending over a 50 km2 area, indicates that groundwater flow is dominated by seasonally-variable gradients developed between the river and the inland wetland basins. While the gradient inverts annually, net groundwater flow is from the wetlands to the river. Hydraulic parameters of the aquifer (K ≈ 10−4 ms−1) and overlying clay aquitard (K ≈ 10−8 ms−1) were determined using grain size, permeameter and slug test analyses; when coupled with observed gradients, they indicate a net groundwater flow velocity of 0.04–0.4 ma−1 downward through the clay and 1–13 ma−1 horizontally within the sand aquifer, producing aquifer residence times on the order 100–1000 a. The results of numerical modeling support this conceptual model of the flow system and, when integrated with observed spatial trends in dissolved As concentrations, reveal that the shallow sediments (upper 2–10 m of fine-grained material) are an important source of As to the underlying aquifer.