Hydrogeology, Water Quality, and Simulation of Groundwater Flow in the Tug Hill Glacial Aquifer in Jefferson, Oswego, and Oneida Counties, New York

Science Center Objects

Problem - The Tug Hill glacial aquifer is a 47-mile long, sand and gravel deposit that occupies 103 mi2 along the western side of the Tug Hill Plateau in northern New York. The northern part of the aquifer is designated a sole-source aquifer by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The aquifer is a relatively shallow, unconfined system that readily interacts with streams that flow over it. ...

Problem - The Tug Hill glacial aquifer is a 47-mile long, sand and gravel deposit that occupies 103 mi2 along the western side of the Tug Hill Plateau in northern New York. The northern part of the aquifer is designated a sole-source aquifer by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The aquifer is a relatively shallow, unconfined system that readily interacts with streams that flow over it. These streams, sustained by groundwater discharge, are the premier steelhead trout-producing streams in the Lake Ontario basin in New York State. A number of villages and most private homeowners get their water from the aquifer, and recently other industries, including a proposed bottled-water plant, could add to withdrawals from the aquifer.

Several large changes in withdrawal rates from the aquifer may regionally affect groundwater levels and flow in nearby streams. Additionally, added population pressure from the expansion of the Fort Drum military base, near Watertown, N.Y, and outgrowth from the nearby Syracuse metropolitan area will increase withdrawals from the aquifer in the future. Attendant problems such as (1)the long-term sustainability of withdrawals under drought conditions, (2) the corresponding reduction of streamflow and the affects on quantity, quality and temperature of the surface-water resource, (3) related impacts on wetlands, fishery and aquatic habitats, riparian habitat, esthetics and recreational diminishment, and (4) the reduction in assimilative capacity for wastewater discharges are all related to the potential changes in surface water and groundwater interaction from pumping stresses on the aquifer or from anticipated climate-change scenarios.

Objectives - Improve the understanding of the hydrogeology of the Tug Hill glacial aquifer in Jefferson, Oswego, and Oneida counties and to provide the following information: (1) extent and thickness of hydrogeology units, (2) hydraulic properties of the aquifer, (3) extent of groundwater/surface water interaction, especially in prime Salmonid fishery areas, (4) groundwater use (type and amount of groundwater withdrawal), (5) water levels and the direction of groundwater flow, and (6) general water quality of groundwater and of streams under baseflow conditions when most water is from groundwater discharge.

Approach - The need to better understand the Tug Hill glacial aquifer can be considered at two levels, a region level and a local level, therefore a two-phased approach to study the aquifer is proposed. Phase I will include an overall reassessment of the aquifers’ boundaries, water quality, and geologic framework based on new hydrogeologic data that has become available following the initial 1980’s study. Phase II will entail more-detailed investigation of specific areas in the northern, central, and southern reaches of the aquifer including using numerical groundwater-flow models to help determine areas of recharge and travel times from these areas to critical locations in the aquifer.

Benefits - Understanding the hydrogeology and aquifer geometry in this unique aquifer system will provide local government, water managers, businesses, and homeowners with surface- and groundwater information needed to ensure that there will be (1) a safe drinking-water supply, (2) water available for economic development, and (3) healthy aquatic environments in the future. The study will additionally build upon the USGS data collection efforts in the state and on the interpretation of the Nation’s water availability.

Project Location
by County

Jefferson County, NY, Oswego County, NY, Oneida County, NY