Modeling a Large-Scale Historic Aquifer Test: Insight into the Hydrogeology of a Regional Fault Zone

Daniel R. Hadley, Daniel B. Abrams, George S. Roadcap

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Faults can act as flow barriers or conduits to groundwater flow by introducing heterogeneity in permeability. We examine the hydrogeology of the Sandwich Fault Zone, a 137 km long zone of high-angle faults in northern Illinois, using a large-scale historic aquifer test. The fault zone is poorly understood at depth due to the majority of the faults being buried by glacial deposits and its near-vertical orientation which limits geologic sampling across faults. The aquifer test—perhaps one of the largest in terms of overall withdrawal in North American history—was conducted in 1942 at a facility adjacent to the fault zone. More than 34,000 m3/day was pumped for 37 days from nine multiaquifer wells open to the stratified Cambrian-Ordovician sandstone aquifer system. We modeled the aquifer test using a transient MODFLOW-USG model and simulated pumping wells with the CLN package. We tested numerous fault core/damage zone conceptualizations and calibrated to drawdown values recorded at production and observation wells. Our analysis indicates that the fault zone is a low-permeability feature that inhibits lateral movement of groundwater and that there is at least an order of magnitude decrease in horizontal hydraulic conductivity in the fault core compared to the undeformed sandstone. Large head declines have occurred north of the fault zone (over 300 m since predevelopment conditions) and modifying fault zone parameters significantly affects calibration to regional drawdown on a decadal scale. The flow-barrier behavior of the fault zone has important implications for future groundwater availability in this highly stressed region.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)453-463
Number of pages11
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 1 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology
  • Computers in Earth Sciences


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