Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Depth of groundwater used for drinking-water supplies in the United States

November 18, 2021

Groundwater supplies 35 percent of drinking water in the United States. Mapping the quantity and quality of groundwater at the depths used for potable supplies requires an understanding of locational variation in the characteristics of drinking-water wells (depth and open interval). Typical depths of domestic- and public-drinking-water supply wells vary by and within aquifer across the United States. The depths to the top and bottom of the zones from which drinking water is withdrawn are important predictor variables in regional- and national-scale statistical water models, but spatially extensive maps of the depths to drinking-water-supply sources are not consistently available in modeled regions. Therefore, it was necessary to generate a set of grids representing surfaces of the approximate common depth and length of open intervals in the wells from which water is withdrawn for domestic- and public-drinking-water supply (withdrawal zones) within the conterminous United States.

Well data (about 7.6 million records) were compiled from several sources, including the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Water Information System (600,922 records), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Safe Drinking Water Information System dataset (66,540 records, primarily public-supply wells), a groundwater ambient monitoring dataset (31,448 records, primarily domestic-supply wells), individual State data (6,096,503 records), a national brackish aquifer study (96,885 records), and a glacial aquifer study (729,564 records).

Fifty-seven principal aquifers and 65 secondary hydrogeologic regions have been designated in the conterminous United States. The principal aquifers and secondary hydrogeologic regions vary in depth, thickness, lithology, and transmissivity characteristics. Some principal aquifers underlie secondary hydrogeologic regions, and may in turn be overlain by glacial sediment or basin and valley fill aquifers, which may also be used as drinking-water sources. The principal aquifer and secondary hydrogeologic region polygons were merged with overlying sediment polygons, where present, including glacial sediment, coarse glacial sediment, and stream valley alluvium (alluvium) polygons, to generate unique hydrogeologic settings across the conterminous United States. A total of 288 distinct hydrogeologic settings resulted from the merging of principal aquifer, secondary hydrogeologic region, glacial sediment, coarse glacial sediment, and alluvium polygons.

Each well was assigned to a hydrogeologic setting on the basis of location. Hydrogeologic setting well groupings were used to guide calculations of the median value for well depth and depth to and length of open intervals across the hydrogeologic setting. Where well data were sparse or missing, wells from hydrogeologic settings with similar well construction properties, geology, physiography, and topography were grouped and used to calculate the moving median depth (if less than five wells in a 100-kilometer [62.1-mile] radius) and to estimate open interval length (if not available within hydrogeologic setting). Grids were generated to represent what might be considered as the “typical” or “median” domestic- and public-supply well in an area. The well properties are defined with moving median grids of top depth, bottom depth, and length of open interval at a 1-square-kilometer (0.38-square-mile) grid cell scale.

Median depths and open intervals of domestic- and public-supply wells varied by lithology of the hydrogeologic setting and overlying sediment. Overall, the median depths were 142 feet (43.3 meters) for all domestic-supply wells and 202 feet (61.6 meters) for all public-supply wells. The median open intervals were 21 feet (6.4 meters) for domestic-supply wells and 49 feet (14.9 meters) for public-supply wells. The shallowest median bottom open interval depths for domestic-supply wells were in the secondary hydrogeologic regions with coarse glacial sediment, which suggests that the wells are most commonly completed in the permeable coarse glacial sediment and not in the underlying secondary hydrogeologic region. Public-supply wells were completed at relatively shallow median depths when drilled in permeable sediment that overlie secondary hydrogeologic regions. When public-supply wells were completed in principal aquifers, the median depths were typically greater than wells completed in secondary hydrogeologic regions.

Well data used in this study were limited to those available from national or State digital databases. Several quality-assurance checks were performed during data compilation, but a comprehensive quality assurance inspection for each of the data sources was outside the scope of this study. Grids defining typical open intervals in domestic- and public-supply wells are presented. Although there are many places where multiple aquifers are stacked, these results correspond primarily to the aquifer with the highest documented number of wells for each use.