Evaluation of Preferential Flow in Playa Settings Near the Pantex Plant

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Analysis of water movement through the unsaturated zone is critical for understanding recharge and contaminant transport at DOE's Pantex Plant. Although preferential flow pathways such as root tubules, cracks, and fissures (Seven, 1991) may not be important volumetrically from a groundwater recharge standpoint, such flow may play a critical role in rapidly transporting contaminants to the groundwater and bypassing much of the soil matrix. Previous studies found that flow along preferential pathways may be up to two orders of magnitude higher than that predicted by homogeneous flow models (Richard and Steenhuis, 1988). In order to accurately evaluate pathways for contaminant transport, it is necessary to understand the spatial distribution of preferential flow pathways. The objective of this study was to delineate the spatial distribution of preferential pathways and evaluate the controls on such pathways.


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