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Geohydrology and water quality of the northern and central parts of the Tug Hill glacial aquifer, Jefferson and Oswego Counties, north-central New York

July 20, 2022

The northern and central parts of the Tug Hill glacial aquifer consist of a 29-mile-long, crescent-shaped, mixture of glaciofluvial, glaciolacustrine, and recent alluvial deposits of predominantly sand and gravel on the western side of the Tug Hill Plateau in Jefferson and Oswego Counties in north-central New York. Approximately 11,400 people are supplied by groundwater that is withdrawn from municipal and nonmunicipal wells in the northern and central parts of the aquifer. In addition, many farms, several industries, and a large New York State fish hatchery also rely on the water from the aquifer.

In the early 2000s, anticipated developmental pressures from potential new industries (including a proposed water-bottling plant in the central part of the Tug Hill glacial aquifer) and expansion of the Fort Drum military base north of Watertown (with the projected increase in population extending into the northern part of the aquifer) prompted the Tug Hill Commission, local municipal officials, and representatives from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to initiate a geohydrologic study with the U.S. Geological Survey. The information from this study is intended to help the state, counties, and local communities make sound policy decisions about their use of this large groundwater resource.

The northern part of the Tug Hill glacial aquifer is a combination of glaciofluvial outwash and alluvial sand and gravel in the Sandy Creek Valley northeast of Adams, New York, and mostly glaciolacustrine beach and deltaic sand or sand and gravel north and south of the village of Adams. The southern and eastern areas of the central part of the aquifer are composed mostly of glaciofluvial sediments such as kames, kame moraines, and kame terraces, whereas most of the western areas of the central part are composed mostly of glaciolacustrine sediments such as deltaic sand and beach sand and gravel.

The northern and central parts of the aquifer are unconfined. Recharge to the northern and central parts of the aquifer is from three main sources: (1) precipitation that falls directly onto the aquifer; (2) unchannelized runoff (overland flow) and groundwater from till and bedrock in the Tug Hill Plateau that seeps into the eastern side of the aquifer; and (3) streams that drain the Tug Hill Plateau and flow across and lose water to the aquifer. Groundwater discharges to springs, seeps, headwaters of streams, and wetlands in the middle area of the central part of the aquifer and along the entire western boundary of the northern and central parts of the aquifer; pumping wells; artificial ditches; and deeply incised streams in the northern and central parts of the aquifer. The groundwater discharge to such streams is critical in supporting the salmonid fishery in the central part of the aquifer.

Groundwater levels were measured on July 17, 2014, at 22 wells throughout the northern and central parts of the aquifer. Water-table contours were drawn on the basis of the measured July 2014 water levels, historical water-level data, and surface-water levels where surface water in the channels was expected to be hydraulically connected to the groundwater system. The water table generally slopes from east to west throughout the northern and central parts of the aquifer; this slope also indicates that the direction of groundwater flow is generally from east to west.

Water-quality samples were collected from 23 stream sites during base-flow conditions, and groundwater-quality and other types of environmental samples were collected from 20 wells in the northern and central parts of the Tug Hill glacial aquifer. The results of the sampling indicate that surface water and groundwater are generally of good quality.

Comparison of the median concentration values of major ions in groundwater samples indicated that hardness in the northern part of the aquifer was about twice as great, and concentrations of calcium and sodium were more than three times as great, as in the central part of the aquifer. As was the case with surface water, the much greater median concentrations in groundwater of calcium, hardness, and alkalinity in the northern part of the aquifer are due to the dissolution of limestone that underlies most of that area and to the high-carbonate content of the clasts in the sand and gravel. There was little to no difference among the median values for bromide, fluoride, silica, and iron in the two parts of the aquifer. Concentrations of most other major ions were slightly greater in the northern part than in the central part of the Tug Hill glacial aquifer, except for magnesium, whose concentration was greater in the central part. Median concentrations of nutrients were generally greatest in surface water and groundwater in the northern part of the aquifer.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2022
Title Geohydrology and water quality of the northern and central parts of the Tug Hill glacial aquifer, Jefferson and Oswego Counties, north-central New York
DOI 10.3133/sir20225039
Authors Todd S. Miller, Benjamin N. Fisher, William M. Kappel
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2022-5039
Index ID sir20225039
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization New York Water Science Center