In a novel approach for detecting ground-water/surface-water interaction, diatoms were used as an indicator that surface water affects ground-water quality in lakeside communities in northern New Jersey. The presence of diatoms, which are abundant in lakes, in adjacent domestic wells demonstrated that ground water in these lakeside communities was under the direct influence of surface water. Entire diatom frustules were present in 17 of 18 water samples collected in August 1999 from domestic wells in communities surrounding Cranberry Lake and Lake Lackawanna. Diatoms in water from the wells were of the same genus as those found in the lakes. The presence of diatoms in the wells, together with the fact that most static and stressed water levels in wells were below the elevation of the lake surfaces, indicates that ground-water/surface-water interaction is likely. Ground-water/surface-water interaction also probably accounts for the previously documented near-ubiquitous presence of methyl tertiary-butyl ether in the ground-water samples.
Recreational use of lakes for motor boating and swimming, the application of herbicides for aquatic weed control, runoff from septic systems and roadways, and the presence of waterfowl all introduce contaminants to the lake. Samples from 4 of the 18 wells contained Navicula spp., a documented significant predictor of Giardia and Cryptosporidium. Because private well owners in New Jersey generally are not required to regularly monitor their wells, and tests conducted by public-water suppliers may not be sensitive to indicators of ground-water/surface-water interaction, these contaminants may remain undetected. The presence of diatoms in wells in similar settings can warn of lake/well interactions in the absence of other indicators.