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Hydrogeology and interactions of groundwater and surface water near Mill Creek and the Herring River, Wellfleet, Massachusetts, 2017–18

February 20, 2020

Groundwater levels and stream stage were monitored by the U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Friends of Herring River, at 19 sites in the Mill Creek Basin, a tributary of the Herring River in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, on outer Cape Cod, to provide baseline data prior to a proposed restoration of tidal flow to the Herring River estuary at the Cape Cod National Seashore. Tidal flow in the Herring River has been restricted by a tide-control structure since 1909. Baseline data are necessary to understand current conditions and provide information on water levels for comparison to future water levels under the proposed Herring River restoration, which includes restoration of salt marshes by enhancing tidal flow to the Herring River and construction of a tide-control structure on Mill Creek to prevent the flooding of upstream private properties, including a golf course.

Analysis of data collected during monitoring-well installation at eight locations on or near the golf course and Mill Creek, along with analysis of existing information, determined that parts of the study area are underlain by salt marsh deposits up to 18 feet (ft) thick. These marsh deposits are directly underlain by estuarine sediments, and adjacent upland areas are underlain by medium to very coarse sand. The freshwater lens on the golf course is 70 ft thick or more.

Groundwater levels at individual wells in the study area fluctuated by 1.3 to 2.6 ft during the study period (June 1, 2017, to June 14, 2018). Total precipitation during this period was 60.8 inches, about 10 inches greater than the long-term (2000–17) annual average (50.3 inches). Groundwater levels on Cape Cod generally were normal to above normal during the study owing to the higher than normal precipitation. Tidal amplitudes of groundwater levels caused by daily fluctuations at nearby tidal waterbodies (M2 tidal harmonic) were as large as 0.12 ft at a well 105 ft from the tidally restricted Herring River and as large as 0.06 ft at a well 575 ft from Wellfleet Harbor. Tidal fluctuations in groundwater levels were generally limited to areas about 1,500 ft from the nearest tidal waterbody. Under the initial proposed restoration, where mean tides would be maintained similar to current conditions, tidal fluctuations would be restored to parts of Mill Creek, and subsequent tidal fluctuations in groundwater levels could increase at some of the areas closest to the proposed tide-control structure, but the fluctuations would be less than about 0.06 ft in magnitude.

Regression models were used to describe the variability of daily mean tidally filtered groundwater levels and daily maximum stream stage in Mill Creek. Significant independent variables for the groundwater-level model included daily tidally filtered Wellfleet Harbor stage with a lag time of zero to 2 days, 7-day precipitation, the growing degree days (50 degrees Fahrenheit), and the quartile of groundwater levels relative to a long period of record at a nearby observation well.

Significant independent variables to predict the Mill Creek stage included daily mean groundwater levels in nearby wells, 7-day precipitation, growing degree days (50 degrees Fahrenheit), and a binary indicator of either a flooded or nonflooded condition on the golf course near Mill Creek. Flooding in Mill Creek occurred primarily when groundwater levels at nearby wells reached certain thresholds, when the precipitation in the preceding 7 days was at least 0.92–1.04 inches, and during the nongrowing season.

Publication Year 2020
Title Hydrogeology and interactions of groundwater and surface water near Mill Creek and the Herring River, Wellfleet, Massachusetts, 2017–18
DOI 10.3133/sir20195145
Authors John R. Mullaney, Janet R. Barclay, Kaitlin L. Laabs, Katherine D. Lavallee
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2019-5145
Index ID sir20195145
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization New England Water Science Center