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Groundwater hydrology in the area of Savannah and Gunstocker Creeks in northeastern Hamilton, southern Meigs, and northwestern Bradley Counties, Tennessee, 2007–09

January 25, 2022

The U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Savannah Valley Utility District, evaluated the groundwater hydrology of the Valley and Ridge carbonate rock aquifer in northeastern Hamilton, southern Meigs, and northwestern Bradley Counties, Tennessee, from 2007 through 2009. The evaluation included, and built on, the results of test drilling conducted in the area in 1974 to determine the potential for groundwater as a source of public supply for the utility and the results of an investigation conducted to define recharge areas for wells used by groundwater-source public-supply water systems throughout Hamilton County in the early 1990s.

Groundwater-level data collected from wells open to the aquifer in the study area were used to prepare potentiometric-surface maps for fall 1992, spring and fall 1993, summer 2008, and spring 2009 conditions. Two primary groundwater basins were delineated from the maps—the larger of which coincides with the watershed of Savannah Creek in the southern part of the study area and the smaller of which coincides with the watershed of Gunstocker Creek in the northern part of the study area. Both basins are characterized by potentiometric surfaces that contain a central area of low-altitude groundwater levels and low gradients relative to the basin margins that reflect the orientation of enhanced permeability along dissolution-enlarged features that have developed parallel to strike in the aquifer. The recharge area of the Savannah Creek groundwater basin is estimated to be about 31 square miles, and the recharge area of the Gunstocker Creek groundwater basin is estimated to be about 17 square miles.

Recharge to the aquifer in the Savannah Creek and Gunstocker Creek groundwater basins primarily occurs in the uplands area along White Oak Mountain in the eastern part of the study area and along the western boundaries of the basins. Groundwater flows toward the potentiometric lows in each basin, discharging as base flow to the streams and to springs locally. Groundwater withdrawals for public supply by the utility influence the potentiometric low in the north-central part of the Savannah Creek groundwater basin and disrupt flow in the creek and nearby Anderson Spring, particularly during the summer and fall seasons. No large groundwater withdrawals currently occur in the Gunstocker Creek basin, but there is potential for groundwater supply development in the basin.

A conceptual model of the groundwater hydrology of the area developed from the evaluation indicates that Chickamauga Lake is the base-level control on groundwater discharge from the Savannah Creek and Gunstocker Creek basins and that lake stage affects the potentiometric surfaces and groundwater discharge in the most downgradient parts of the basins as a result of inferred hydraulic connection between the aquifer and the lake. The model also infers that captured surface water from sections of Savannah Creek and the Hiwassee River that are embayed by the lake could recharge the aquifer and serve as a source of water withdrawn by wells in each basin if the potentiometric surfaces were lowered to altitudes less than the stage of the lake, particularly under potential future groundwater-development scenarios in the Gunstocker Creek basin.

Geochemical analysis of samples collected from six wells for the study indicate that groundwater in the Valley and Ridge aquifer in the area generally is a calcium-magnesium-bicarbonate type, and although the water generally is hard, it is suitable for most uses. Trace-element concentrations were less than primary drinking-water criteria in all the samples.

Results of the investigation indicate that options are available for additional groundwater withdrawal in the study area. Water-level data collected since 1975 at the Savannah Valley Utility District Smith Road well site indicate that some additional amount of groundwater is available for withdrawal from the aquifer in the Savannah Creek groundwater basin. The potentiometric low within the Gunstocker Creek groundwater basin indicates that an area with enhanced permeability is present as a northeastern counterpart to the potentiometric low within the Savannah Creek basin. Because the Gunstocker Creek basin is about one-half the total area of the Savannah Creek basin, a commensurate decrease in available groundwater storage is likely. Furthermore, groundwater withdrawal locations in the Gunstocker Creek basin would be closer to—and possibly connected hydraulically to—the Hiwassee River, thus increasing the potential for induced surface-water recharge in the basin if sustained drawdown from pumping lowered groundwater levels to altitudes less than the stage of the river.

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