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Framework for regional synthesis of water-quality data for the glacial aquifer system in the United States

February 10, 2006

The glacial aquifer system is the largest principal aquifer in aerial extent and ground-water use for public supply in the United States. A principal aquifer is defined as a regionally extensive aquifer or aquifer system that has the potential to be used as a source of potable water (U.S. Geological Survey, 2003). Multiple aquifers often are grouped into large, extensive aquifer systems such as the glacial aquifer system.

The glacial aquifer system is considered here to include all unconsolidated aquifers above bedrock north of the line of continental glaciation throughout the country (fig. 1). Total withdrawals from the glacial aquifer system were 3,560 million gallons per day in 2000, which constitutes almost 5 percent of total withdrawals from all aquifers in the United States (Maupin and Barber, 2005). Approximately 41 million people relied on the glacial aquifer for public supply and domestic use in 2000.

The U.S. Geological Survey National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program began assessing the glacial aquifer system in 1991. The assessment of water-quality data on a regional scale, such as the glacial aquifer system, is coincident with the regional framework established by the Regional Aquifer-System Analysis Program (RASA) (Sun and others, 1997). From 1978 to 1995, the RASA Program systematically evaluated 25 of the Nation's most important groundwater systems including studies in the glacial aquifer system in the northeast, Midwest, and northern Midwest United States. The NAWQA Program is building on the work of the RASA Program to study the water quality of 16 of the most important ground-water systems (Lapham and others, 2005). Over 1,700 water-quality samples have been collected by the NAWQA Program from 1991 to 2004 to assess the glacial aquifer system. This large data set is unique in that the samples have been collected using a consistent sampling protocol, and multiple nested samples. The nested samples address the recently recharged shallow ground water, deeper water from principal aquifers often used for domestic supply, and source water used for public supplies within the glacial aquifer system. Information concerning the NAWQA Program including study unit boundaries is shown in figure 1 (Lapham and others, 2005).

A framework for comparison of water quality across the glacial aquifer system has been developed based on two primary characteristics: intrinsic susceptibility and vulnerability. Intrinsic susceptibility, which is a measure of the ease at which water enters and moves through aquifer material, is a characteristic of the aquifer and overlying material and of the hydrologic conditions. Intrinsic susceptibility is independent of the chemical characteristics of the contaminant and its sources. In this way, intrinsic susceptibility assessments do not target specific natural or anthropogenic sources of contamination but instead consider only the physical factors affecting the flow of water to, and through the ground-water resource (Focazio and others, 2002). On a regional scale, intrinsic susceptibility is represented by the spatial distribution of fine- or coarse-grained material at the land surface, and the physical setting of the aquifer system. Vulnerability, which is a function of both intrinsic susceptibility and the proximity and characteristics of contaminant sources, includes consideration of features related to anthropogenic sources of contaminants, such as the character of the upgradient land use (for example, urban, agricultural, undeveloped, and others); as well as features related to natural sources of contaminants, such as the mineralogy of the aquifer material or the geochemical conditions within the aquifer system. The framework helps categorize this large region into areas of similar hydrogeologic characteristics for which water quality can be compared. The purpose of this report is to describe this framework and how it will be used for regional synthesis of water-quality da

Citation Information

Publication Year 2005
Title Framework for regional synthesis of water-quality data for the glacial aquifer system in the United States
DOI 10.3133/sir20055223
Authors Kelly L. Warner, Terri Arnold
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2005-5223
Index ID sir20055223
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Illinois Water Science Center

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