Observation well network design for pumping tests in unconfined aquifers

Xunhong Chen, James Goeke, Jerry F. Ayers, Scott Summerside

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


This paper presents a method for determining locations of observation wells to be used in conducting pumping tests in unconfined aquifers. Sensitivity coefficients, the distribution of relative errors, and the correlation coefficients between four aquifer parameters (horizontal and vertical hydraulic conductivities Kr and Kz, storage coefficient S, and specific yield Sy) are used as the criteria for the design of observation well networks and the interpretation of pumping tests. The contours of the relative errors over a vertical profile are very useful in selecting the "best" location of an observation well. Results from theoretical analyses suggest that a wide range of locations is suitable for the determination of Kr and that good locations for the determination of Kz and S may be poorly suited for the determination of Sy. Consideration must be given to the position and lengths of the pumping well screen in the selection of observation well locations. For a given location, the quality of test data can be improved by using high pumping rates and frequent sampling of drawdowns. We found that a minimum of two and preferably three observation locations are needed along a given transect. Results of the four parameters from a single well analysis may contain higher uncertainties. However, composite analyses of multiple observation wells can reduce the correlation between the four aquifer parameters, particularly between Kr and Sy, thus, improving the quality of parameter estimation. Results from two pumping tests conducted at sites located in Nebraska were examined with regard to the proposed methodology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)17-32
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of the American Water Resources Association
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2003


  • Aquifer hydraulic parameters
  • Observation well locations
  • Pumping tests
  • Sampling frequency
  • Sensitivity analysis
  • Unconfined aquifers

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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