Areas contributing recharge to production wells and effects of climate change on the groundwater system in the Chipuxet River and Chickasheen Brook Basins, Rhode Island
The Chipuxet River and Chickasheen Brook Basins in southern Rhode Island are an important water resource for public and domestic supply, irrigation, recreation, and aquatic habitat. The U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Rhode Island Department of Health, began a study in 2012 as part of an effort to protect the source of water to six large-capacity production wells that supply drinking water and to increase understanding of how climate change might affect the water resources in the basins. Soil-water-balance and groundwater-flow models were developed to delineate the areas contributing recharge to the wells and to quantify the hydrologic response to climate change. Surficial deposits of glacial origin ranging from a few feet to more than 200 feet thick overlie bedrock in the 24.4-square mile study area. These deposits comprise a complex and productive aquifer system.
Simulated areas contributing recharge to the production wells covered a total area of 0.63 square miles for average well withdrawal rates from 2007 through 2011 (total rate of 583 gallons per minute). Simulated areas contributing recharge for the maximum well pumping capacities (total rate of 3,700 gallons per minute) covered a total area of 2.55 square miles. Most simulated areas contributing recharge extend upgradient of the wells to morainal and upland till deposits and to groundwater divides. Some simulated areas contributing recharge include small, isolated areas remote from the wells. Relatively short groundwater traveltimes from recharging locations to discharging wells indicated that the wells are vulnerable to contamination from land-surface activities; median traveltimes ranged from 3.5 to 8.6 years for the production wells examined, and 57 to 91 percent of the traveltimes were 10 years or less. Land cover in the areas contributing recharge includes a substantial amount of urban and agriculture land use for five wells adjacent to the Chipuxet River; for one well adjacent to a tributary stream, land use is less developed.
The calibrated groundwater-flow model provided a single, best representation of the areas contributing recharge to a production well. The parameter variance-covariance matrix from model calibration was used to create parameter sets that reflect the uncertainty of the parameter estimates and the correlation among parameters to evaluate the uncertainty associated with the predicted contributing areas to the wells. A Monte Carlo analysis led to contributing areas expressed as a probability distribution that differed from a single deterministic contributing area. Because of the effects of parameter uncertainty, the size of the probabilistic contributing areas for both average and maximum pumping rates was larger than the size of the deterministic contributing areas for the wells. Thus, some areas not in the deterministic contributing area might actually be in the contributing area, including additional areas of urban and agricultural land use that has the potential to contaminate groundwater. Additional areas that might be in the contributing area included recharge originating near the pumping wells that have relatively short groundwater-flow paths and traveltimes. At the maximum pumping rates, areas associated with low probabilities extended long distances along groundwater divides in the uplands remote from the wells.
Climate projections for the Chipuxet River and Chickasheen Brook Basins from downscaled output from general circulation models indicate that mean annual temperature might increase by 4.7 degrees Fahrenheit and 8.0 degrees Fahrenheit by the late 21st century (2070–99) compared with the late 20th century (1970–99) under scenarios of lower and higher emissions of greenhouse gases, respectively. By the late 21st century, winter and spring precipitation is projected to increase by 12 to 17 percent, summer precipitation to increase by about the same as mean annual precipitation (8 percent), and fall precipitation to decrease by 5 percent for both emission scenarios compared with the late 20th century. Soil-water-balance simulations indicate that, although precipitation is expected to increase in three seasons, only in winter do precipitation increases exceed actual evapotranspiration increases. Recharge is projected to decrease in fall and generally change little in spring and summer. By the late 21st century, winter recharge is expected to increase by 13 percent for the lower emissions scenario and by 15 percent for the higher emissions scenario. In fall, recharge is projected to diminish by 13 percent for the lower emissions scenario and by 24 percent for the higher emissions scenario. Although recharge is projected to change seasonally in the 21st century, mean annual recharge changes minimally. Soil moisture is projected to decrease in the 21st century from spring through fall because of increases in potential evapotranspiration, and in fall because of decreases in precipitation in addition to increases in potential evapotranspiration. By the late 21st century, soil moisture for the lower emissions scenario is expected to decrease by 11 percent in summer and 15 percent in fall, and for the higher emissions scenario, decrease by 23 percent for both seasons. These decreases in soil moisture during the growing season might have implications for agriculture in the study area.
Predicted changes in the magnitude and seasonal distribution of recharge in the 21st century increase simulated base flows and groundwater levels in the winter months for both emission scenarios, but because of less recharge in the fall and less or about the same recharge in the preceding months of spring and summer, base flows and groundwater levels in the fall months decrease for both emission scenarios. October has the largest base flow and groundwater level decreases. By the late 21st century, base flows at the Chipuxet River in October are projected to decrease by 9 percent for the lower emissions scenario and 18 percent for the higher emissions scenario. For a headwater stream in the upland till with shorter groundwater-flow paths and lower storage properties in its drainage area, base flows in October are projected to diminish by 28 percent and 42 percent for the lower and higher emissions scenarios by the late 21st century. Groundwater level changes in the uplands show substantial decreases in fall, but because of the large storage capacity of stratified deposits, water levels change minimally in the valley. By the late 21st century, water levels in large areas of upland till deposits in October are projected to decrease by up to 2 feet for the lower emissions scenario, whereas large areas decrease by up to 5 feet, with small areas with decreases of as much as 10 feet, for the higher emissions scenario. For both emission scenarios, additional areas of till go dry in fall compared with the late 20th century. Thus projected changes in recharge in the 21st century might extend low flows and low water levels for the year later in fall and there might be more intermittent headwater streams compared with the late 20th century with corresponding implications to aquatic habitat. Finally, the size and location of the simulated areas contributing recharge to the production wells are minimally affected by climate change because mean annual recharge, which is used to determine the contributing areas to the production wells, is projected to change little in the 21st century.
|USGS Numbered Series
|Areas contributing recharge to production wells and effects of climate change on the groundwater system in the Chipuxet River and Chickasheen Brook Basins, Rhode Island
|Scientific Investigations Report
|U.S. Geological Survey
|Massachusetts Water Science Center
|Report: ix, 56 p.; Plate; Figure: 11 inches x 17 inches
|Chickasheen Brook, Chipuxet River
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