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Hydrogeology of sand and gravel aquifers in the Owasco Inlet watershed, Cayuga and Tompkins Counties, New York

June 13, 2023

This study is a continuation of a series of hydrogeologic appraisals that have been conducted since 1980, as part of a cooperative, long-term, detailed aquifer mapping program by the U.S. Geological Survey and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. These appraisals provide a foundation for wellhead protection programs, water-resource management and planning decisions, and groundwater remediation in upstate New York. The Owasco Inlet watershed drains north directly to Owasco Lake, one of New York’s Finger Lakes. The watershed is similar in form to other watersheds of the Finger Lakes region of New York State and is characterized by broad, smooth uplands punctuated by the 18-mile-long Owasco Inlet valley and the secondary valleys of Decker, Dresserville, and Hemlock Creeks. All these streams occupy “through valleys”—the valleys are continuous into adjacent watersheds such that watershed divides are high points within the valley bottoms, rather than in uplands.

Most glacial deposits in the watershed were deposited during the Valley Heads Readvance and subsequent retreat (with at least one minor readvance). Estimates are that the Valley Heads Readvance likely peaked in the Cayuga basin about 17,000 (calendar) years ago based on dates from western New York and the Mohawk Valley in east-central New York. It was the last major ice advance of the Pleistocene Epoch in this region. This readvance covered the entire Owasco watershed.

Valley Heads ice in the Owasco watershed was part of the Cayuga ice lobe, which flowed parallel to the Owasco Inlet valley as far south as Moravia, but which became progressively more eastward south of Locke, effectively raking across the valley from the west. The Owasco Inlet watershed drains north, like other Finger Lakes watersheds, and during deglaciation, northward meltwater drainage was largely blocked by the ice, which resulted in development of a series of regional proglacial lakes in which fine lacustrine sediments predominated. Lacustrine sediments constitute much of the Owasco Inlet valley fill, but it has been pointed out that there are no obvious outlet channels exiting the Owasco Inlet watershed, and it has been proposed that there was northward drainage of meltwater into the ice within the larger, neighboring Cayuga Trough. The lacustrine deposits in the Owasco Inlet valley are commonly underlain by thinner coarse-grained stratified deposits (subaqueous fans and eskers) of variable sorting and permeability. An exception occurs at Groton, N.Y., where retreating ice paused long enough for coarse-grained sediments to fill much of the valley. Smaller, higher elevation valleys have a wider variety of glacial valley-fill deposits, ranging from fine lacustrine sediments to sand and gravel to till.

Groundwater is the sole source of water supply in the area; glacial sand and gravel aquifers are the primary water source in the Owasco Inlet and Decker Creek valleys, and fractured bedrock aquifers typically supply domestic wells in the remaining valleys and upland areas.

Municipal supplies tap a variety of aquifer types in the Owasco Inlet valley and nearby uplands. The hamlet of Locke taps the extensive confined aquifer beneath fine-grained lacustrine deposits in the valley. The Village of Moravia taps a semiconfined aquifer that overlies proglacial lake deposits and is partly confined by overlying recent lake deposits and alluvium. Withdrawals from this aquifer may also induce water from the Owasco Inlet into the aquifer. The Village of Groton draws from two aquifers: (1) a thin upland unconfined sand and gravel aquifer tapped by an infiltration gallery and (2) the local unconfined or semiconfined aquifer in the Owasco Inlet valley. Another aquifer with potential for municipal supply is the unconfined aquifer in the Decker Creek valley near Wilson Corners. The confined aquifer in the lower Dresserville Creek valley may have some water-resource potential, but it is largely untested.

Unconfined aquifers are the most susceptible to contamination from activities at land surface directly above the aquifer because precipitation and subsequent recharge can transport contaminants directly to the water table. Adjacent upland areas can also contribute contaminants. Confined aquifers are less susceptible to contamination from overlying land surface areas because confining units largely prevent downward movement of water. Recharge occurs elsewhere at unconfined upvalley locations and along valley walls where alluvial fans, ice-contact deposits, or stream incision into the valley wall may provide pathways for downward movement of groundwater.

Publication Year 2023
Title Hydrogeology of sand and gravel aquifers in the Owasco Inlet watershed, Cayuga and Tompkins Counties, New York
DOI 10.3133/sir20235031
Authors Paul M. Heisig
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2023-5031
Index ID sir20235031
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization New York Water Science Center