The U.S. Department of Energy is responsible for risk reduction and cleanup of its nuclear weapons complex. Remediation strategies for some of the contamination may include techniques that mitigate risk, but leave contaminants in place. Monitoring to verify remedy performance and long-term mitigation of risk is key to implementing these strategies and can be a large portion of the total cost of remedy implementation. Especially in these situations, there is a need for innovative monitoring approaches that move away from the cost- and labor-intensive point-source monitoring. In this paper, alternative approaches for monitoring are presented for vadose zone, groundwater, groundwater/surface water interface, and surface water.
To illustrate integrated, systems-based monitoring, this paper focuses on vadose zone contaminant remediation to mitigate impact to groundwater. In this context, vadose zone contamination is a source, or potential source, to groundwater plumes. The monitoring design uses a systems-based approach focused on developing a conceptual site model that highlights key features that control contaminant flux to groundwater. These features are derived considering the unsaturated flow and contaminant transport processes in the vadose zone and the nature of the waste discharge. Diagnostic properties and/or parameters related to both short- and long-term contaminant flux to groundwater can be identified and targeted for monitoring. The resolution of monitoring data needed to correspond to a functionally useful indicator of flux to groundwater can be estimated using quantitative analyses and the associated unsaturated flow properties relevant to the targeted site and vadose zone features. This monitoring design approach follows the process of developing a quantitative conceptual model suitable for supporting projections of future flux to groundwater. Support for such projections is important because it is likely that, in many cases, remediation decisions for the vadose zone will need to be made based all or in part on projected impacts to groundwater, and monitoring will then be applied to verify that remedy goals are being met.