Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Geohydrologic reconnaissance of the upper Potomac River basin

January 1, 1994

The upper Potomac River basin, in the central Appalachian region in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia, is a humid temperate region of diverse fractured rocks. Three geohydrologic terranes, which underlie large parts of the basin, are described in terms of their aquifer characteristics and of the magnitude and duration of their base runoff: (1) fractured rock having a thin regolith, (2) fractured rock having a thick regolith, and (3) carbonate rock.

Crystalline rock in the mountainous part of the Blue Ridge province and shale with tight sandstone in the folded Appalachians are covered with thin regolith. Water is stored in and moves through fairly unmodified fractures. Average transmissivity (T) is estimated to be 150 feet squared per day, and average storage coefficient (S), 0.005. Base runoff declines rapidly from its high levels during spring and is poorly sustained during the summer season of high evapotranspiration. The rocks in this geohydrologic terrane are the least effective in the basin for the development of water supplies and as a source of dry-weather streamflow.

Crystalline and sedimentary rocks in the Piedmont province and in the lowland part of the Blue Ridge province are covered with thick regolith. Water is stored in and moves through both the regolith and the underlying fractured rock. Estimated average values for aquifer characteristics are T, 200 feet squared per day, and S, 0.01. Base runoff is better sustained in this terrane than in the thin-regolith terrane and on the average .is about twice as great.

Carbonate rock, in which fractures have been widened selectively by solution, especially near streams, has estimated average aquifer characteristics of T, 500 feet squared per day, and S, 0.03-0.04. This rock is the most effective in the basin in terms of water supply and base runoff. Where its fractures have not been widened by solution, the carbonate rock is a fractured-rock aquifer much like the noncarbonate rock. At low values the frequency of specific capacities of wells is much the same in all rocks in the basin, but high values of specific capacity are as much as 10 times more frequent in carbonate rock than in noncarbonate rock. Nearly all the large springs and high-capacity wells in the basin are in carbonate rock. Base runoff from the carbonate rock is better sustained during dry weather and on the average is about three times as great as base runoff from fractured rock having a thin regolith.

The potential role of these water-bearing terranes in water management probably lies in the local development of large water supplies from the carbonate rock and in the possible manipulation of underground storage for such purposes as providing space for artificial recharge of ground water and providing ground water to be used for the augmentation of low streamflow. The chief water-quality problems in the basin--acidic mine-drainage water in the western part of the basin, local highly mineralized ground water, and the high nitrate content of ground water in some of the densely populated parts of the basin--would probably have little adverse affect on the use of ground water for low-flow augmentation.

Citation Information

Publication Year 1975
Title Geohydrologic reconnaissance of the upper Potomac River basin
DOI 10.3133/wsp2035
Authors Frank W. Trainer, Frank A. Watkins
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Water Supply Paper
Series Number 2035
Index ID wsp2035
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse