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Effect of urbanization on the water resources of eastern Chester County, Pennsylvania

January 1, 1987

The effects of human activity on the water resources of a 207-square-mile area of eastern Chester County was evaluated. The most serious consequence of urbanization is the contamination of ground water by volatile organic compounds, which were detected in 39 percent of the 70 wells sampled. As many as nine compounds were found in one water sample, and the concentration of total volatile organic compounds was as high as 17,400 ug/L (micrograms per liter). In the Chester Valley, volatile organic compounds are moving down the hydraulic gradient caused by quarry dewatering. Movement through the quarries reduces concentrations of these compounds and removes most of them. Phenol was detected in 28 percent of 54 wells sampled, with concentrations up to 7 ug/L.

Metals, except for iron and manganese, and other trace constituents generally are not a water-quality problem. However, ground water in an area in Chester Valley has been contaminated by concentrations of boron as high as 20,000 ug/L and lithium as high as 13,000 ug/L. The ground water discharges to Valley Creek, where concentrations of boron are as high as 130 ug/L and lithium as high as 800 ug/L.

Concentrations of chloride as high as 2,100 mg/L (milligrams per liter) were found in a well at a former highway salt storage site. Wells completed in carbonate rock downgradient from the Pennsylvania Turnpike had chloride concentrations as high as 350 mg/L.

The base-neutral organic compounds bis(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate, di-n-butyl phthalate, and 1,2-dichlorobenzene, and the pesticides alachlor, aldrian, diazanon, DDD, DDT, dieldrin, methyl parathion, picloram, and 2,4-D were detected in a few water samples in low concentrations, However, these organic compounds do not present a widespread water-quality problem. Neither acid organic compounds nor polychlorinated napthalenes (PCN) were detected in ground water.

The growth of public water and sewer systems has resulted in a significant interbasin transfer of water. Estimates for 1984 range from a net loss of 630 million gallons in the Valley Creek basin to a net gain of 783 million gallons in the Chester Creek basin. The quantity of wastewater discharged from treatment plants generally correlates well with the altitude of the water table and poorly with water use or precipitation, indicating substantial ground-water infiltration. Estimated ground-water infiltration to the West Goshen treatment plant for 1980-84 was 0.8 cubic feet per square mile, or 10 percent of the long-term average flow of Chester Creek. Estimated ground-water infiltration to the Valley Forge sewer system was as high as 4.9 million gallons per day.

Dewatering operations at two active quarries in Chester Valley have lowered water levels locally and increased the range of the fluctuation of the local water table. The spread of the cones of depression caused by quarry pumping is limited by geologic and hydrologic controls. Pumping of high-capacity wells in Chester Valley has caused small local cones of depression and may have caused some reaches of Valley Creek or its tributaries to lose water.

One of the greatest effects of human activity on the surface-water system has been the accumulation of organic compounds, particularly PCB and pesticides, on stream-bottom material. PCB, DDE, and dieldrin were found in bottom material from all eight streams sampled.

Land-use changes in 10 selected subbasins were quantified and related to stream-benthic invertebrate diversity index. from 1970-80, the diversity index increased at all sites. Subbasins that had a greater change in land use had a greater increase in diversity index. The increase may be due to the banning of certain pesticides such as DDT, a decreasing use of pesticides in urbanizing subbasins, or flushing or burial of older pesticide-contaminated sediment.

Publication Year 1987
Title Effect of urbanization on the water resources of eastern Chester County, Pennsylvania
DOI 10.3133/wri874098
Authors R. A. Sloto
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Water-Resources Investigations Report
Series Number 87-4098
Index ID wri874098
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Pennsylvania Water Science Center