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Hydrogeology and shallow groundwater quality in the tidal Anacostia River watershed, Washington, D.C.

April 1, 2020

Groundwater hydrology and geochemistry within the tidal Anacostia River watershed of Washington, D.C. are related to natural and human influences. The U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the District Department of Energy & Environment, began investigating the hydrogeology and groundwater quality of the watershed in 2002. Lithologic coring, groundwater-level and tidal monitoring, and water-quality sampling have been conducted to improve understanding of the groundwater-flow system, geochemistry, water quality, and the likely interaction between groundwater and the tidal Anacostia River. The flow and interaction of shallow groundwater with the tidal Anacostia River and other area streams are affected by diversions, pumping, land reclamation, and other human activities in this highly urbanized watershed.

The tidal Anacostia River watershed is underlain by a wedge of unconsolidated sediments that is part of the Atlantic Coastal Plain Physiographic Province. These sediments form a system of confined and unconfined aquifers. The coarse sediments of the Potomac Group sand-dominated lithofacies form the Patuxent aquifer. The Patuxent aquifer crops out and subcrops in the northwestern part of the study area, but is confined to the southeast by the overlying Potomac Group clay-dominated lithofacies. Overlying the Potomac Group is a series of interbedded sands and clays that form an unconfined surficial aquifer system. Regional correlation in the unconfined surficial aquifer system is complicated by local heterogeneity in aquifer sediments. Local perched and semi-confined conditions occur in some areas.

Recharge of the confined Patuxent aquifer occurs primarily in the outcrop and subcrop area, although some recharge may also occur through overlying confining units. Recharge to the unconfined surficial aquifer system occurs through infiltration of precipitation and possible artificial recharge from structures such as underground water or sewer pipes. In the Patuxent aquifer, hydraulic gradients indicate downward movement in the outcrop area, whereas hydraulic heads beneath the Anacostia River are higher than land surface, indicating an upward hydraulic gradient. In the unconfined surficial aquifer system, groundwater generally flows from upland recharge areas towards discharge areas near the Anacostia River and its tributaries. Groundwater from the confined part of the Patuxent aquifer also may discharge to the Anacostia River in locations where the overlying clay-dominated lithofacies of the Potomac Group is absent as a result of past geologic and (or) alluvial processes.

Geochemistry and groundwater quality are affected by hydrologic conditions as well as anthropogenic influences. Local variability in groundwater quality reflects local variability in hydrogeologic conditions and sources of chemicals. Groundwater ranges from anoxic and iron- or calcium-bicarbonate type, to oxic with elevated nitrate. The occurrence and distribution of pesticides, volatile organic compounds, and other selected chemical compounds in groundwater reflect the multitude of sources common to urban areas, as well as variable hydrogeologic and geochemical conditions that affect their fate and transport in the environment. Overall, concentrations of only a few of the over 200 chemical constituents included in laboratory analyses exceeded regulatory standards or guidance values. These include tetrachloroethene and arsenic, which were each detected one time in different wells. There were also several detections of iron and manganese that exceeded regulatory standards or guidance values that are associated with reducing conditions in aquifer sediments.

Publication Year 2020
Title Hydrogeology and shallow groundwater quality in the tidal Anacostia River watershed, Washington, D.C.
DOI 10.3133/sir20195128
Authors Scott W. Ator, Judith M. Denver, Cheryl A. Dieter
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2019-5128
Index ID sir20195128
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Maryland Water Science Center