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OFR 2006-1151


Environmental Setting of the Morgan Creek Basin, Maryland, 2002-04

By Tracy Connell Hancock and Michael J. Brayton


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      Purpose and Scope
            Previous Studies
Environmental Setting: Physical and Cultural Features, Climate, and Hydrology
      Physical Features
      Cultural Features
            Land Use
            Surface Water
            Ground Water
            Floods and Droughts
            Water Use
References Cited


  The Morgan Creek Basin is a 31-square-kilometer watershed in Kent County, Maryland on the Delmarva Peninsula. The Delmarva Peninsula covers about 15,500 square kilometers and includes most of the State of Delaware and parts of Maryland and Virginia east of the Chesapeake Bay. The Morgan Creek Basin is one of five sites selected for the study of sources, transport, and fate by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program’s: Agricultural Chemicals: Sources, Transport and Fate study team (Agricultural Chemicals Team, ACT). A key component of the study is identifying the natural factors and human influences affecting water quality in the Morgan Creek Basin.
      The Morgan Creek Basin is in the Coastal Plain Physiographic Province, which is a nearly level seaward-sloping lowland with areas of moderate topographic relief. The study area lies within a well-drained upland region with permeable and porous soils and aquifer sediments. The soils are well suited to most field crops.
      Agriculture is the principal land use in the Morgan Creek Basin, as well as throughout the entire Delmarva Peninsula. Most agricultural land is used for row crops such as corn, soybeans, and small grains, and slightly less land is used for pasture and hay production involving alfalfa, clover, and various perennial grasses. There are several animal operations in the study area. Farm management practices include fertilizer and herbicide applications, different tillage practices, addition of lime, forested riparian buffers, grassed waterways, and sediment retention ponds. Irrigation in the study area is minimal.
      The climate of the Morgan Creek Basin is humid and subtropical, with an average annual precipitation of 1.12 meters. Overall annual precipitation is evenly distributed throughout the year, from 76 to 101 millimeters per month; however, the spring and summer (March – September) tend to be slightly wetter than the autumn and winter (October – February). Anomalously high precipitation can occur in summer/early autumn due to occasional hurricanes and tropical storms. Thunderstorms can also produce relatively high localized precipitation over the Morgan Creek Basin during the summer months.
      Mean daily streamflows for Morgan Creek are highly variable, and somewhat flashy due to the relatively small area of the basin. The long-term median base flow for Morgan Creek is 59 percent of total flow, indicating that total streamflow is most often dominated by a sustained ground-water contribution. Surface runoff accounts for the other 41 percent of the water in total streamflow and dominates during and just after precipitation events.
      The surficial aquifer in the study area consists of permeable quartz-rich sand and gravel and is underlain by less permeable marine sand, silt, and clay. The depth to water table ranges from less than 0.4 meters below land surface in the floodplain to 12 meters below land surface in upland areas. Ground water generally flows from uplands toward the Morgan Creek floodplain at a variety of depths and time scales. Because the soils and sediments are permeable and porous, some fraction of chemicals applied to the land surface tend to move downward to the water table where they are transported to discharge areas near Morgan Creek.

Suggested Citation:

Hancock, T.C., and Brayton, M.J., 2006, Environmental Setting of the Morgan Creek Basin, Maryland, 2002-04: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2006-1151, 28 p.

For additional information, contact:
Virginia Water Science Center

U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey
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Last modified: Saturday, 12-Jan-2013 22:24:32 EST

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