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USGS Virginia Water Science Center

U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1731

The Virginia Coastal Plain Hydrogeologic Framework

E. Randolph McFarland1 and T. Scott Bruce2
1U.S. Geological Survey, Virginia Water Science Center, Richmond, VA. 
2 Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, Water Resources Management, Richmond, VA

This report is available as a pdf



A refined descriptive hydrogeologic framework of the Coastal Plain of eastern Virginia provides a new perspective on the regional ground-water system by incorporating recent understanding gained by discovery of the Chesapeake Bay impact crater and determination of other geological relations. The seaward-thickening wedge of extensive, eastward-dipping strata of largely unconsolidated sediments is classified into a series of 19 hydrogeologic units, based on interpretations of geophysical logs and allied descriptions and analyses from a regional network of 403 boreholes. 

Potomac aquifer sediments of Early Cretaceous age form the primary ground-water supply resource. The Potomac aquifer is designated as a single aquifer because the fine-grained interbeds, which are spatially highly variable and inherently discontinuous, are not sufficiently dense across a continuous expanse to act as regional barriers to ground-water flow. Part of the Potomac aquifer in the outer part of the Chesapeake Bay impact crater consists of megablock beds, which are relatively undeformed internally but are bounded by widely separated faults. The Potomac aquifer is entirely truncated across the inner part of the crater. The Potomac confining zone approximates a transition from the Potomac aquifer to overlying hydrogeologic units.

New or revised designations of sediments of Late Cretaceous age that are present only south of the James River include the upper Cenomanian confining unit, the Virginia Beach aquifer and confining zone, and the Peedee aquifer and confining zone. The Virginia Beach aquifer is a locally important ground-water supply resource.

Sediments of late Paleocene to early Eocene age that compose the Aquia aquifer and overlying Nanjemoy-Marlboro confining unit are truncated along the margin of the Chesapeake Bay impact crater. Sediments of late Eocene age compose three newly designated confining units within the crater, which are from bottom to top, the impact-generated Exmore clast and Exmore matrix confining units, and the Chickahominy confining unit.

Piney Point aquifer sediments of early Eocene to middle Miocene age overlie most of the Chesapeake Bay impact crater and beyond, but are a locally significant ground-water supply resource only outside of the crater across the middle reaches of the Northern Neck, Middle, and York-James Peninsulas. Sediments of middle Miocene to late Miocene age that compose the Calvert confining unit and overlying Saint Marys confining unit effectively separate the underlying Piney Point aquifer and deeper aquifers from overlying shallow aquifers. Saint Marys aquifer sediments of late Miocene age separate the Calvert and Saint Marys confining units across two limited areas only. 

Sediments of the Yorktown-Eastover aquifer of late Miocene to late Pliocene age form the second most heavily used ground-water supply resource. The Yorktown confining zone approximates a transition to the overlying late Pliocene to Holocene sediments of the surficial aquifer, which extends across the entire land surface in the Virginia Coastal Plain and is a moderately used supply. The Yorktown-Eastover aquifer and the eastern part of the surficial aquifer are closely associated across complex and extensive hydraulic connections and jointly compose a shallow, generally semiconfined ground-water system that is hydraulically separated from the deeper system.

Vertical faults extend from the basement upward through most of the hydrogeologic units but may be more widespread and ubiquitous than recognized herein, because areas of sparse boreholes do not provide adequate spatial control. Hydraulic conductivity probably is decreased locally by disruption of depositional intergranular structure by fault movement in the generally incompetent sediments. Localized fluid flow in open fractures may be unique in the Chickahominy confining unit. Some hydrogeologic units are partly to wholly truncated where displacements are large relative to unit thickness, resulting in lateral flow barriers or flow conduits.

The tops of the Saint Marys confining unit, Yorktown-Eastover aquifer, and Yorktown confining zone are widely sculpted by erosion that reflects both the present-day topography and buried paleochannels. Fault displacements across the top surfaces of these hydrogeologic units probably have been beveled by erosion. Additionally, erosion has modified the margins of many hydrogeologic units by truncation along the valleys of major rivers and their tributaries, beneath which underlying hydrogeologic units are incised. As a result, the surficial aquifer is in contact with a “patchwork” of underlying hydrogeologic units that create a complex array of hydraulic connections between the confined and unconfined ground-water systems.

Table of Contents

     Purpose and Scope
     Description of Study Area
          Geologic Setting
          Ground-Water Conditions
     Methods of Investigation
          Borehole Geophysical-Log Network
          Borehole-Data Quality
Hydrogeologic Framework
     Conceptual Development
          Previous Investigations
          Stratigraphic and Structural Evolution
          Interpretive Analysis
     Hydrogeologic Units
          Potomac Aquifer
          Potomac Confining Zone
          Upper Cenomanian Confining Unit
          Virginia Beach Aquifer
          Virginia Beach Confining Zone
          Peedee Aquifer
          Peedee Confining Zone
          Aquia Aquifer
          Nanjemoy-Marlboro Confining Unit
          Exmore Clast Confining Unit
          Exmore Matrix Confining Unit
          Chickahominy Confining Unit
          Piney Point Aquifer
          Calvert Confining Unit
          Saint Marys Aquifer
          Saint Marys Confining Unit
          Yorktown-Eastover Aquifer
          Yorktown Confining Zone
          Surficial Aquifer
Summary and Conclusions
References Cited

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