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Fact Sheet 2010–3002

National Water-Quality Assessment, Transport of Anthropogenic and Natural Contaminants (TANC) to Public-Supply Wells

Assessing the Vulnerability of Public-Supply Wells to Contamination: Glacial Aquifer System in Woodbury, Connecticut

By Martha L. Jagucki, Craig J. Brown, J. Jeffrey Starn, and Sandra M. Eberts


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This fact sheet highlights findings from the vulnerability study of a public-supply well in Woodbury, Connecticut. The well typically produces water at the rate of 72 gallons per minute from the glacial aquifer system in the Pomperaug River Basin. Water samples were collected at the public-supply well and at monitoring wells installed in or near the simulated zone of contribution to the supply well. Samples of untreated water from the public-supply wellhead contained several types of undesirable constituents, including 11 volatile organic compounds (VOCs), nitrate, pesticides, uranium, and radon. Most of these constituents were detected at concentrations below drinking-water standards, where such standards exist. Only concentrations of the VOC trichlorethylene exceeded the Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) of 5 micrograms per liter (µg/L) established by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for drinking water. Radon concentrations exceeded a proposed—but not finalized—MCL of 300 picocuries per liter (pCi/L).

Overall, the study findings point to four main factors that affect the movement and fate of contaminants and the vulnerability of the public-supply well in Woodbury: (1) groundwater age (how long ago water entered, or recharged, the aquifer); (2) the percentage of recharge received through urban areas; (3) the percentage of recharge received through dry wells and their proximity to the public-supply well; and (4) natural geochemical processes occurring within the aquifer system; that is, processes that affect the amounts and distribution of chemical substances in aquifer sediments and groundwater.

A computer-model simulation of groundwater flow to the public-supply well was used to estimate the age of water particles entering the well along the length of the well screen. About 90 percent of the simulated flow to the well consists of water that entered the aquifer 9 or fewer years ago. Such young water is vulnerable to contaminants resulting from human activities, as indicated by the solvents, fuel components, road salt, and septic-system leachate that were detected in the glacial aquifer system during the current study. Age-dating combined with chemical modeling suggests that less than 2 percent of water produced by the public-supply well is water from the deep bedrock that is “old” (water that recharged, or entered, the aquifer before 1952). Such a small percentage of old groundwater entering the public-supply well offers little potential for dilution of young waters containing contaminants from human activities.

Shallow groundwater that originated as recharge through urban areas generally had higher median concentrations and more detections of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) than did groundwater from the deep glacial deposits or fractured bedrock that originated mainly as recharge through agricultural and undeveloped land. Shallow groundwater was also found to be affected by road salt and septic-system leachate. A chemical mixing model indicates that up to 15 percent of nitrate in water from the supply well is likely from septic-system leachate.

The Connecticut Department of Public Health has identified several potential sources of contamination in the commercial area of Woodbury (several light industrial or commercial properties where hazardous materials and petroleum products are used and stored). To reduce stormwater runoff in the commercial area, water from the parking lots and pavement is channeled into dry wells—drains that shunt water directly into the aquifer system, bypassing the soil and unsaturated zones. A computer-model simulation of groundwater flow indicates that approximately 16 percent of the water produced by the public-supply well is derived from runoff captured by these drains. Traveltime for water from the dry wells to the public-supply well ranges from about 1.5 to less than 4 years. Dry wells have the potential to enhance contaminant movement to the supply well, suggesting that stormwater-control methods cannot be considered separately from groundwater quality—they are linked.

Water-quality protection in this setting depends on the entire community. If residents and businesses take steps to reduce input of manmade contaminants to groundwater, a positive effect on quality of the supply-well water might begin to be seen in less than 10 years, owing to the short residence time of water in the aquifer.

First posted January 2010

For additional information contact:
Team Leader
U.S. Geological Survey
6480 Doubletree Ave.
Columbus OH 43229-1111
Phone: (614) 430-7740
FAX: (614) 430-7777

Part or all of this report is presented in Portable Document Format (PDF); the latest version of Adobe Reader or similar software is required to view it. Download the latest version of Adobe Reader, free of charge.

Suggested citation:

Jagucki, M.L., Brown, C.J., Starn, J.J., and Eberts, S.M., 2010, Assessing the vulnerability of public-supply wells to contaminationGlacial aquifer system in Woodbury, Connecticut: U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet FS 2010–3002, 6 p.

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