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Ground-water flow and quality in the Atlantic City 800-foot sand, New Jersey

January 1, 2001

The regional, confined Atlantic City 800-foot sand is the principal source of water supply for coastal communities of southern New Jersey. In response to extensive use of the aquifer--nearly 21 million gallons per day in 1986--water levels have declined to about 100 feet below sea level near Atlantic City and remain below sea level throughout the coastal areas of southern New Jersey, raising concerns about the potential for saltwater intrusion into well fields.

Water levels in the Atlantic City 800-foot sand have declined in response to pumping from the aquifer since the 1890's. Water levels in the first wells drilled into the Atlantic City 800-foot sand were above land surface, and water flowed continuously from the wells. By 1986, water levels were below sea level throughout most of the coastal areas. Under current conditions, wells near the coast derive most of their supply from lateral flow contributed from the unconfined part of the aquifer northwest of the updip limit of the confining unit that overlies the Atlantic City 800- foot sand. Ground water also flows laterally from offshore areas and leaks vertically through the overlying and underlying confining units into the Atlantic City 800-foot sand. The decline in water levels upsets the historical equilibrium between freshwater and ancient saltwater in offshore parts of the aquifer and permits the lateral movement of saltwater toward pumping centers. The rate of movement is accelerated as the decline in water levels increases. The chloride concentration of aquifer water 5.3 miles offshore of Atlantic City was measured as 77 mg/L (milligrams per liter) in 1985 at a U.S. Geological Survey observation well. Salty water has also moved toward wells in Cape May County. The confined, regional nature of the Atlantic City 800-foot sand permits water levels in Cape May County to decline in response to pumping in Atlantic County and vice versa. Historically, chloride concentrations as great as 1 ,510 mg/L have been reported for water in a former supply well in southern Cape May County. These data indicate that salty water has moved inland in Cape May County. Analysis of the chloride-concentration data indicates that ground water with a chloride concentration of 250 mg/L is within 4 miles of supply wells in Stone Harbor, Cape May County, and is about 10 miles offshore of supply wells near Atlantic City.

Results of numerical simulations of ground-water flow were analyzed to determine the effects of four water-supply alternatives on water levels, the flow budget, and potential saltwater movement toward pumping centers during 1986-2040. In the supply alternatives, pumpage is (1) held constant at 1986 rates of pumpage; (2) increased by 35 percent at 1986 locations; (3) increased by 35 percent, but with relocation of some supply wells further inland; and (4) increased by 35 percent but with some of the increase derived from inland wells tapping the Kirkwood-Cohansey aquifer system rather than the Atlantic City 800-foot sand. Inland relocation of supply wells closer to the updip limit of the overlying confining unit results in the smallest decline in water levels and the smallest rate of ground-water flow between the offshore location of salty water and coastal supply wells. Increased pumpage from coastal supply wells results in the greatest water-level declines and the greatest increase in the rate of ground-water flow from offshore to coastal wells.

Flow of undesirable salty ground water from offshore locations remains nearly the same as for current (1986) conditions when pumping rates do not change, and the flow-rate increase is smallest for the relocated pumpage (fourth) alternative. In comparing the two conditions of a 35-percent increase in pumpage, the flow from undesirable salty water positions is lessened and flow from the unconfined aquifer is increased when some of the pumping centers are relocated farther inland. Ground water from the 250-mg/L isochlor position does not reach supply wells during any simulated conditions predicted for 1986-2040. The analysis of the simulation, however, includes only advective freshwater flow from an estimated 250-mg/L isochlor position and does not include density effects. A chloride concentration data-collection network could be designed to monitor for saltwater intrusion and serve as an early warning system for the communities of southern Cape May County and the coastal communities near Atlantic City. Data from existing offshore wells could continue to serve as an early warning system for the Atlantic City area; however, observation wells south of Stone Harbor, in the Wildwood area, would be useful as an early warning system for southern Cape May County.

Publication Year 2001
Title Ground-water flow and quality in the Atlantic City 800-foot sand, New Jersey
Authors Steven D. McAuley, Julia L. Barringer, Gary N. Paulachok, Jeffrey S. Clark, Otto S. Zapecza
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype State or Local Government Series
Series Title New Jersey Geological Survey Report
Series Number GSR 41
Index ID 70114185
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse