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Groundwater-quality data and regional trends in the Virginia Coastal Plain, 1906-2007

August 31, 2010

A newly developed regional perspective of the hydrogeology of the Virginia Coastal Plain incorporates updated information on groundwater quality in the area. Local-scale groundwater-quality information is provided by a comprehensive dataset compiled from multiple Federal and State agency databases. Groundwater-sample chemical-constituent values and related data are presented in tables, summaries, location maps, and discussions of data quality and limitations.

Spatial trends in groundwater quality and related processes at the regional scale are determined from interpretive analyses of the sample data. Major ions that dominate the chemical composition of groundwater in the deep Piney Point, Aquia, and Potomac aquifers evolve eastward and with depth from (1) 'hard' water, dominated by calcium and magnesium cations and bicarbonate and carbonate anions, to (2) 'soft' water, dominated by sodium and potassium cations and bicarbonate and carbonate anions, and lastly to (3) 'salty' water, dominated by sodium and potassium cations and chloride anions. Chemical weathering of subsurface sediments is followed by ion exchange by clay and glauconite, and subsequently by mixing with seawater along the saltwater-transition zone. The chemical composition of groundwater in the shallower surficial and Yorktown-Eastover aquifers, and in basement bedrock along the Fall Zone, is more variable as a result of short flow paths between closely located recharge and discharge areas and possibly some solutes originating from human sources.

The saltwater-transition zone is generally broad and landward-dipping, based on groundwater chloride concentrations that increase eastward and with depth. The configuration is convoluted across the Chesapeake Bay impact crater, however, where it is warped and mounded along zones having vertically inverted chloride concentrations that decrease with depth. Fresh groundwater has flushed seawater from subsurface sediments preferentially around the impact crater as a result of broad contrasts between sediment permeabilities. Paths of differential flushing are also focused along the inverted zones, which follow stratigraphic and structural trends southeastward into North Carolina and northeastward beneath the chloride mound across the outer impact crater. Brine within the inner impact crater has probably remained unflushed. Regional movement of the saltwater-transition zone takes place over geologic time scales. Localized movement has been induced by groundwater withdrawal, mostly along shallow parts of the saltwater-transition zone. Short-term episodic withdrawals result in repeated cycles of upconing and downconing of saltwater, which are superimposed on longer-term lateral saltwater intrusion. Effective monitoring for saltwater intrusion needs to address multiple and complexly distributed areas of potential intrusion that vary over time.

A broad belt of large groundwater fluoride concentrations underlies the city of Suffolk, and thins and tapers northward. Fluoride in groundwater probably originates by desorbtion from phosphatic sedimentary material. The high fluoride belt possibly was formed by initial adsorbtion of fluoride onto sediment oxyhydroxides, followed by desorbtion along the leading edge of the advancing saltwater-transition zone.

Large groundwater iron and manganese concentrations are most common to the west along the Fall Zone, across part of the saltwater-transition zone and eastward, and within shallow groundwater far to the east. Iron and manganese initially produced by mineral dissolution along the Fall Zone are adsorbed eastward and with depth by clay and glauconite, and subsequently desorbed along the leading edge of the advancing saltwater-transition zone. Iron and manganese in shallow groundwater far to the east are produced by reaction of sediment organic matter with oxyhydroxides.

Large groundwater nitrate and ammonium concentrations are mostly limited to shallow depths. Most nitrate a