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Geohydrology and water quality of the stratified-drift aquifers in West Branch Cayuga Inlet and Fish Kill Valleys, Newfield, Tompkins County, New York

August 30, 2021

From 2011 to 2016, the U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Town of Newfield and the Tompkins County Planning Department, performed a study of the stratified-drift aquifers in the West Branch Cayuga Inlet and Fish Kill Valleys in Newfield, Tompkins County, New York. Both confined and unconfined aquifers were identified, mostly in the valleys. The confined aquifer consists of a discontinuous sand and gravel layer that overlies bedrock and is commonly confined by overlying fine-grained sediments. The unconfined aquifer consists of surficial ice contact sand and gravel, alluvial silt, sand and gravel, and areas where several large tributary streams deposited alluvial fans in the valley, all of which were deposited during and after the last glacial recession.

The unconfined aquifers are primarily recharged by direct infiltration of precipitation at the land surface, by surface runoff and shallow subsurface flow from adjacent hillsides, and by seepage loss from streams crossing the aquifer, especially on alluvial fans. The confined aquifers are primarily recharged by groundwater stored in the overlying sand and gravel aquifer that slowly seeps downward through the underlying confining layer. Other sources of recharge are precipitation that falls directly on the surficial confining unit and adjacent valley walls, which then slowly seeps downward and enters the confined aquifer, and groundwater flow from bordering till and bedrock and from bedrock below the valley. There may also be some recharge where confining units are absent or where parts of the confining units contain sediments with moderate permeability.

The groundwater naturally discharges to the Fish Kill and West Branch Cayuga Inlet streams and to wetlands overlying the aquifer boundaries, with additional losses due to evapotranspiration. Groundwater is pumped from the aquifers by domestic, municipal, and agricultural wells. Approximately 57.9 million gallons per year was withdrawn from the stratified-drift (sand and gravel) aquifers.

Groundwater samples were collected from 11 wells, and surface water samples were collected at 2 sites, one each from Fish Kill and West Branch Cayuga Inlet. None of the common ions (for example, sodium, chloride, and magnesium) exceeded existing drinking water standards at either surface water site. The concentration of nitrate plus nitrite detected was 0.4 milligram per liter as nitrogen in the West Branch Cayuga Inlet site. Total phosphorus was detected at 0.01 milligram per liter as phosphate for both sites. Of the 11 wells sampled, 8 were finished in confined sand and gravel aquifers, 1 was finished in unconfined sand and gravel, and 2 were finished in shale bedrock. Groundwater quality in the study area generally met Federal and State drinking-water standards. However, of the 11 samples taken, 2 exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency drinking water advisory taste threshold of 20 milligrams per liter for sodium, 8 exceeded the secondary maximum contaminant level of 300 micrograms per liter for iron, and 9 exceeded the secondary maximum contaminant level of 50 micrograms per liter for manganese.