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Updates to the regional groundwater-flow model of the New Jersey Coastal Plain, 1980–2013

November 17, 2023

A 21-layer three-dimensional transient groundwater-flow model of the New Jersey Coastal Plain was developed and calibrated by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in cooperation with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to simulate groundwater-flow conditions during 1980–2013, incorporating average annual groundwater withdrawals and average annual groundwater recharge. This model is the third version of the New Jersey Coastal Plain regional groundwater-flow model that was initially developed as part of the USGS Regional Aquifer System Analysis (RASA) program. The model simulates groundwater flow in 11 aquifers and 10 intervening confining units of the New Jersey Coastal Plain to provide a regional overview of groundwater conditions. Averaged groundwater withdrawal data for 1980 to 2013 were used in the model. The 11 aquifers in New Jersey are, from shallowest to deepest, the Holly Beach water-bearing zone and the confined Cohansey aquifer in Cape May County; the Rio Grande water-bearing zone; the Atlantic City 800-foot sand; the Piney Point, Vincentown, and Wenonah-Mount Laurel aquifers; the Englishtown aquifer system; and the upper, middle, and lower aquifers of the Potomac-Raritan-Magothy (PRM) aquifer system.

The model was developed with the MODFLOW–2005 numerical code and the UCODE parameter estimation technique and calibrated using water-level and base-flow observations. A total of 3,453 water-level observations from 392 wells in New Jersey and 48 wells in Delaware from 1983 to 2013 were used in model calibration, which includes historical water-level trends for 29 wells in New Jersey during 1980–2013 presented in time-series hydrographs. In addition, derived observations also were included by calculating the vertical gradient at 33 pairs of nested observation wells in New Jersey, for a total of 210 observations. Changes in water levels over time were calculated for 134 wells in New Jersey and four wells in Delaware where water levels had varied substantially (approximately 10 ft) over the 30-year span of synoptic water-level measurements, for a total of 767 observations. A total of 1,485 base-flow observations in 47 surface-water basins in New Jersey from 1980 to 2013 were used in model calibration.

Updates to the groundwater-flow model include the conversion to a fully three-dimensional model from the previous quasi-three-dimensional model. The new model will allow for potential future uses such as particle tracking or simulation of variable-density groundwater flow that could not be accomplished with earlier versions of the model. Spatially and temporally variable recharge estimated by using a soil-water balance model resulted in a spatially and temporally finer discretization. The Rio Grande water-bearing zone was added to the model as an aquifer layer to refine estimates of simulated flow in Atlantic and Cape May Counties, New Jersey. Hydrogeologic parameters were updated to include the confining units in New Jersey and corresponding hydrogeologic units in Delaware and eastern Maryland.

The simulated water levels for the New Jersey Coastal Plain aquifers were compared to water-level measurements made during 1980–2013. The average residual for 4,243 water-level observations for New Jersey (simulated water levels minus measured water levels) is 1.5 feet. The simulated water-level contours for the confined aquifers for 2013 were compared to potentiometric surfaces produced from water levels measured during 2013. Simulated water levels generally matched the 2013 potentiometric surfaces of the confined aquifers in the areas of large withdrawals. Hydrographs of wells in the confined Coastal Plain aquifers of New Jersey show that simulated water levels generally match the magnitude and seasonal variation of the observed water levels. Hydrographs of base flow for the 47 streamgaging stations in New Jersey indicate that most of the simulated and estimated data match reasonably well.

Groundwater withdrawals are an important resource for water supply, agricultural, industrial, and commercial needs in the New Jersey Coastal Plain. Groundwater withdrawals from the New Jersey Coastal Plain aquifers have resulted in persistent, regionally extensive cones of depression in the Englishtown aquifer system and Wenonah-Mount Laurel aquifer in Ocean and Monmouth Counties; Wenonah-Mount Laurel and upper, middle, and lower PRM aquifers in Camden County; and Atlantic City 800-foot sand in Atlantic County. Because hydrologic stresses and water-management needs change with time, periodic updates to the groundwater-flow model are required to provide current information about hydrologic conditions in the New Jersey Coastal Plain and to maintain its usefulness as a tool to manage water resources and develop water-resource strategies. The current updates will support the continued application of this model as a tool for evaluating the regional effects of changes in groundwater withdrawals and of current and potential future water-management strategies on groundwater levels in the New Jersey Coastal Plain.

Publication Year 2023
Title Updates to the regional groundwater-flow model of the New Jersey Coastal Plain, 1980–2013
DOI 10.3133/sir20235066
Authors Alison D. Gordon, Glen B. Carleton
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2023-5066
Index ID sir20235066
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization New Jersey Water Science Center