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Hydrologic effects of leakage from the Catskill Aqueduct on the bedrock-aquifer system near High Falls, New York, November 2019–January 2020

December 27, 2022

Historical observations by the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (NYCDEP) indicate that the Rondout pressure tunnel has been leaking in the vicinity of the hamlet of High Falls, New York. In the 74 days from November 11, 2019, to January 23, 2020, NYCDEP shut down and partially dewatered the pressure tunnel for inspection and repairs. On November 5–7, 2019 (during normal tunnel operations), and on January 21–22, 2020 (when the tunnel was shut down), the U.S. Geological Survey used a network of 31 groundwater wells to collect water-level elevations and determine the potentiometric surface of the bedrock aquifer adjacent to the Rondout pressure tunnel. When the tunnel was fully pressurized during normal operations, water levels indicated a two-mile-long groundwater mound which trended northeastward, approximately along the regional strike of the bedrock units. The mound ranged in elevation from 250 to 300 feet (ft) above the North American Vertical Datum of 1988 and extended from 1,500 ft southwest of a suspected leak at the Rondout pressure tunnel to about 8,500 ft northeast of the possible leak. During the 74-day shutdown, during which the aqueduct was nonoperational, this groundwater mound decreased in magnitude and extent as it reverted to equilibrium conditions. This resulted in a flattening of the potentiometric surface, represented by two remnant groundwater plateaus.

Water-level differences were calculated for wells that may be affected by potential tunnel leakage to determine the influence on the local bedrock aquifer. The five largest water-level differences (77, 61, 49, 42, and 41 ft) occurred in wells that were generally aligned with the northeastward trend of regional bedrock strike; these wells may penetrate the karstic Helderberg Group bedrock unit. Near the suspected tunnel leak, the Helderberg Group overlies the Binnewater Sandstone and the High Falls Shale, both of which produced substantial groundwater inflows during the construction of the Rondout pressure tunnel. Water levels in wells penetrating the Shawangunk Formation just east of Rondout Creek, where the unit is in contact with the High Falls Shale, and in wells penetrating the Esopus Shale, which is adjacent to the Helderberg Group and northwest of the tunnel leak, may be affected by tunnel leakage. It is unclear if water levels in a well 9,000 ft northwest of the suspected tunnel leak are influenced by the tunnel leakage, by another source of artificial recharge, or by both. This well penetrates the Onondaga Limestone in the northwestern part of the study area. An unconsolidated aquifer composed of stratified gravel, sand, silt, and clay overlies the limestone bedrock in this part of study area―additional study is required to determine if this unconsolidated aquifer is affected by tunnel leakage.

Publication Year 2022
Title Hydrologic effects of leakage from the Catskill Aqueduct on the bedrock-aquifer system near High Falls, New York, November 2019–January 2020
DOI 10.3133/ofr20221119
Authors Anthony Chu, Michael L. Noll, William D. Capurso
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Open-File Report
Series Number 2022-1119
Index ID ofr20221119
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization New York Water Science Center