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Circular 1352

National Water-Quality Assessment Program

The Quality of Our Nation’s Waters

Water Quality in the Glacial Aquifer System, Northern United States, 1993–2009

By Kelly L. Warner and Joseph D. Ayotte

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (39.5 MB)Overview

The glacial aquifer system underlies much of the northern United States. About one-sixth (41 million people) of the United States population relies on the glacial aquifer system for drinking water. The primary importance of the glacial aquifer system is as a source of water for public supply to the population centers in the region, but the aquifer system also provides drinking water for domestic use to individual homes and small communities in rural areas. Withdrawals from this aquifer system for public supply are the largest in the Nation and play a key role in the economic development of parts of 26 States. Corn production has increased in the central part of the aquifer system over the last 10 years, and the increased production increases the need for water for agricultural use and the need for increased use of agrochemicals. Additionally, the steady increase in population (15 million people over the last 40 years) in urban and rural areas is resulting in an increased reliance on the glacial aquifer system for high-quality drinking water. The need to monitor, understand, and maintain the water quality of this valuable economic resource continues to grow.

Major Findings

  • Contaminants from geologic source—in particular arsenic and manganese—in groundwater used for drinking are a potential concern for human health
  • Concentrations of nitrate and pesticides in groundwater were low in fine-grained sediment even in areas of intensive agriculture
  • Chloride concentrations in groundwater are increasing in urban areas
  • “Nuisance” constituents in groundwater from the glacial aquifer system could limit groundwater use

Summary Report for the National Water-Quality Assessment Program Principal Aquifers Series, "The Quality of Our Nation's Waters—"

Circular 1360—Water Quality in Principal Aquifers of the United States, 1991–2010

Companion Reports

Circular 1337—Water Quality in the High Plains Aquifer, Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming, 1999–2004

Circular 1352—Water Quality in the Glacial Aquifer System, Northern United States, 1993–2009

Circular 1353—Water Quality in the Northern Atlantic Coastal Plain Surficial Aquifer System, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, and Virginia, 1988–2009

Circular 1354—Water Quality in the Principal Aquifers of the Piedmont, Blue Ridge, and Valley and Ridge Regions, Eastern United States, 1993–2009

Circular 1355—Water Quality in the Upper Floridan Aquifer and Overlying Surficial Aquifers, Southeastern United States, 1993–2010

Circular 1356—Water Quality in the Mississippi Embayment–Texas Coastal Uplands Aquifer System and Mississippi River Valley Alluvial Aquifer, South-Central United States, 1994–2008

Circular 1357—Water Quality in the Denver Basin Aquifer System, Colorado, 2003–05

Circular 1358—Water Quality in Basin-Fill Aquifers of the Southwestern United States: Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah, 1993–2009

Circular 1359—Groundwater Quality in the Columbia Plateau and Snake River Plain Basin-Fill and Basaltic-Rock Aquifers and the Hawaiian Volcanic-Rock Aquifers, Washington, Idaho, and Hawaii, 1993–2005

First posted January 21, 2015

For additional information, contact:
Chief, National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program 
U.S. Geological Survey
413 National Center
12201 Sunrise Valley Drive
Reston, VA 20192

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Suggested citation:

Warner, K.L., and Ayotte, J.D., 2014, The quality of our Nation’s waters—Water quality in the glacial aquifer system, northern United States, 1993–2009: U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1352, 116 p.,

ISSN 1067–084X (print)

ISSN 2330–5703 (online)


Chapter 1: Overview of Major Findings and Implications

Chapter 2: NAWQA Approach to Assessing Water Quality

Chapter 3: Environmental and Hydrogeologic Setting

Chapter 4: Natural Processes and Human Activities That Affect the Quality of Water

Chapter 5: Quality of the Groundwater Resource Used for Drinking

Chapter 6: Understanding Where and Why Constituents From Geologic Sources Occur

Chapter 7: Understanding Where and Why Contaminants Associated With Human Activities Occur

References Cited



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