Digging Deep Into Clinton’s Well Water

Hanna Kahrmann-Zadak '12 takes her daily sample from a well in Clinton village.
Hanna Kahrmann-Zadak '12 takes her daily sample from a well in Clinton village.
Every morning, Hanna Kahrmann-Zadak ’12 rides her bike from outside Clinton up the Hill to get to the lab. But before reaching her destination, she makes three pit stops to pick up her samples from two wells and nearby Oriskany Creek. She and Associate Professor of Geosciences Todd Rayne are embarking on a project that could prove extremely significant, especially to the community of Clinton: plotting the changes in the components of groundwater and of Oriskany Creek as they correlate to precipitation events.

Since mid-March, Kahrmann-Zadak and Professor Rayne have been collecting samples of water at various depths and distances from Oriskany Creek—one at about 42 feet, the next at 17 feet, and finally from the creek itself. They then run these samples through an instrument called an ion chromatograph that identifies the ions present in the samples as well as their concentrations. They are testing the changing amounts of nitrate, sulfate, chloride and fluoride anions as well as sodium, calcium and magnesium cations and their relationship to precipitation.

The ions change with precipitation due to the effect of runoff. The chloride present in this water is a precipitate (a solid that forms from a chemical reaction of two components) from the water’s reaction with shale, plenty of which can be found in the area. But how much do these concentrations change, dependent on the type of the precipitation? And what exactly is the flow of water—that is, if there’s a spike in the creek, how long does it take to reach the 42-foot well?

These are questions that Kahrmann-Zadak strives to answer, using the information to discover the effect of humans on the creek and surrounding groundwater. These data can detect the chemical input of human-engineer chemicals such as fertilizers, road salts and byproducts of farming. Of all the ions she is testing, Kahrmann-Zadak is paying the most attention to the changes in the concentration of nitrate, which can be found in many fertilizers that are often washed into the surrounding water supply.

Oriskany Creek, which winds its way around the village of Clinton, is actually losing water as it is pumped into the aquifer. Although the wells that pump this groundwater meet EPA standards, the components of the water fluctuate on a smaller scale. Although the fluctuations may not be enough to make Clinton’s water harmful to humans, they make the water less than ideal because of the high ion concentration.

Kahrmann-Zadak is a rising junior majoring in geosciences. She is involved with the Emerson Literary Society and will be studying abroad in Denmark in the fall.

Hanna Kahrmann-Zadak is a graduate of Highland Park Senior High School (St. Paul, Minn.).
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