The hydrogeology discipline involves field investigations and reviews of the following typical activities:
- analysis and assessment of subsurface conditions by geotechnical drilling, geophysical surveys or other subsurface sampling methods,
- evaluation and determination of the direction and rate of groundwater flow,
- modeling of contaminant fate and transport in shallow, subsurface sediments and groundwater systems,
- assessment of contaminant impact on groundwater supplies,
- evaluation and assessment of human exposure and risk assessment relating to contaminated soil and groundwater,
- development and assessment of groundwater remediation system design, operation and effectiveness, and
- other forensic investigations, such as in evaluating likely sources causing illness or death to humans and animals.
Any of the above activities, among others, can be involved in litigation. Most involve some type of forensic investigation. The first consideration is whether inappropriate or misrepresented data or methods are involved that can form the basis of an expert’s opinions involving activities conducted within the discipline of hydrogeology. In some cases, unqualified individuals do not have appropriate training and experience or the associated professional certifications and/or state licenses.
Many of these activities also involve an assessment of chemical constituents and other physiochemical and microbiological conditions present in the subsurface for establishing the relative extent of exposure and for assessing ground-water remediation methods or system effectiveness. After the remediation system has been designed and installed, monitoring of ongoing conditions and changes introduced into the subsurface is required to assess effectiveness of the remediation method employed. Data for such evaluations can be poor or absent, making an assessment of such activities difficult. Disagreements involving poor designs often result in litigation. However, as indicated by Campbell, et al. (Part I: 2004), the consultant need not be perfect in presentations because of the complexities of subsurface conditions, as long as any errors do not impact the basic opinions of the consultant (or Expert). For Parts II and III of this series of papers, see Litigation Support (more).
The hydrogeologic discipline also comes to bear on the development and long-term operation of groundwater supplies. Metallic corrosion and failure of pumping equipment, piping and tanks must be considered in all efficient operation and maintenance programs for water-supply systems. The contamination of water supplies and the assessment of the source of such contamination are often involved in litigation. Leaking pipelines or above-ground or under-ground storage tanks (ASTs and USTs) are the source of many cases of groundwater contamination. Such leaks are usually the result of corrosion created by metallic stress or by naturally-induced cathodic currents in the subsurface. These issues are common areas of investigation during litigation, and hence require input from the metallurgical engineering discipline.
Many hydrogeologic field programs must be conducted in potentially dangerous, hostile industrial environments. See Field Alerts on the I2M Web Portal (more). Because unanticipated hazardous conditions are often encountered in field projects, project planning and the associated project specifications must also include specific health and safety considerations of the anticipated conditions at the project site. Appropriate monitoring well designs, applicable sampling and well development programs, and experienced supervision must be included in such programs. As a result of inadequate pre-project preparation and planning, which leads directly to bad project specifications, project implementation and execution will most certainly be ineffective and inherently flawed. Such projects are subject to litigation unless the consultant can recover through immediate cooperation with the client. When safety incidents do occur and field personnel are injured, litigation can also result and may also be a result of inappropriate project planning for health and safety precautions.
The program must neither contribute to contamination present below the clients’ land nor harm the consultants’ personnel. In many litigation cases, hydrogeological conditions and principles are called into question or must be defended, if possible. Over the years, inappropriate sampling and drilling programs, inappropriate interpretation of subsurface conditions, and mistakes involving the use of any one of numerous possible environmental technologies have contributed to disagreements between client and consultant, client and regulatory agency or between client and the community. Many times these disagreements result in lawsuits. Sometimes the disagreement is over conditions where the available data are ambiguous and where two or more interpretations of the same data set are clearly possible. Technical disagreements are to be expected because interpretation of some data is subjective by nature. In some instances, however, because damage to human health from some perceived environmental insult or exposure is often difficult to prove as a reasonable certainty, many cases are brought against industry that are frivolous and motivated by greed. Some also have reasonable merit.
Because industry uses and handles dangerous chemicals to make products needed by society, there is always a chance that some set of conditions may conspire to expose a nearby community to toxic agents, either in the groundwater, in the soil, or air. Industry, as well as the community choosing to live in harm’s way near the industrial centers, must be on constant guard against accidents, leaks and spills of chemical and materials which may threaten human health and the environment. Industrial plants are engineered to confront and combat such risks; the nearby community is not. This is one of the present problems of our day, the co-existence of industry and nearby communities. In many cases, lawsuits are the result of these disagreements, which can be based on either real or imagined dangers. For additional discussions, see Litigation Support (more).
To review the technical literature on these technologies and techniques, search “hydrogeology” and related key words in the I2M Web Portal (here).
Feel free to contact us to discuss your project needs or to arrange a speaking engagement by one of our Associates for a professional training session, a technical conference, society meeting, or for a graduation ceremony or other function where the knowledge and experience of our Associates may be of interest to your group.
The I2M Principal responsible for this discipline’s activities is: