Ground-water quality and its relation to hydrogeology, land use, and surface-water quality in the Red Clay Creek basin, Piedmont Physiographic Province, Pennsylvania and Delaware

Water-Resources Investigations Report 96-4288
Prepared in cooperation with the Red Clay Valley Association and the Chester County Water Resources Authority



The Red Clay Creek Basin in the Piedmont Physiographic Province of Pennsylvania and Delaware is a 54-square-mile area underlain by a structurally complex assemblage of fractured metamorphosed sedimentary and igneous rocks that form a water-table aquifer. Ground-water-flow systems generally are local, and ground water discharges to streams. Both ground water and surface water in the basin are used for drinking-water supply.

Ground-water quality and the relation between ground-water quality and hydrogeologic and land-use factors were assessed in 1993 in bedrock aquifers of the basin. A total of 82 wells were sampled from July to November 1993 using a stratified random sampling scheme that included 8 hydrogeologic and 4 land-use categories to distribute the samples evenly over the area of the basin. The eight hydrogeologic units were determined by formation or lithology. The land-use categories were (1) forested, open, and undeveloped; (2) agricultural; (3) residential; and (4) industrial and commercial. Well-water samples were analyzed for major and minor ions, nutrients, volatile organic compounds (VOC's), pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyl compounds (PCB's), and radon-222.

Concentrations of some constituents exceeded maximum contaminant levels (MCL) or secondary maximum contaminant levels (SMCL) established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for drinking water. Concentrations of nitrate were greater than the MCL of 10 mg/L (milligrams per liter) as nitrogen (N) in water from 11 (13 percent) of 82 wells sampled; the maximum concentration was 38 mg/L as N. Water from only 1 of 82 wells sampled contained VOC's or pesticides that exceeded a MCL; water from that well contained 3 mg/L chlordane and 1 mg/L of PCB's. Constituents or properties of well-water samples that exceeded SMCL's included iron, manganese, dissolved solids, pH, and corrosivity. Water from 70 (85 percent) of the 82 wells sampled contained radon-222 activities greater than the proposed MCL of 300 pCi/L (picoCuries per liter).

Differences in selected major and minor ion concentrations and radon-222 activities were statistically significant between some lithologies and are related to differences in mineralogy. Ground water from felsic gneiss and schist generally contained higher radon-222 activities than the other lithologies; activities as high as 10,000 pCi/L were measured in a water sample from the felsic gneiss.

Differences in the concentrations of nitrate, sodium, and chloride, and the frequency of pesticide detections in ground water were statistically significant between samples from wells in some land-use categories. Concentrations of nitrate generally were greatest in agricultural and in industrial and commercial areas and can be attributed to the use of fertilizers on the land surface and other agricultural activities. Much of the industrial and commercial land use is in areas previously used for or related to mushroom production. Concentrations of chloride and sodium also were greatest in water from wells in agricultural and industrial and commercial areas, probably because of the use of fertilizer and road salt. Concentrations of nitrate, chloride, and sodium in water samples from wells in forested and residential land use did not differ statistically significantly from each other. The herbicides metolachlor and atrazine were the most frequently detected pesticides and were detected more frequently in agricultural areas than in areas with other land uses; their presence is related to their use in crop production. VOC's were detected infrequently and only in residential and industrial and commercial areas.

The relation between ground-water quality and surface-water quality is assessed by comparing nitrate and chloride concentrations in the 1993 ground-water samples and 1993-94 base-flow samples. Base-flow samples were collected at eight stream sites in the headwaters of the West Branch of Red Clay Creek in 1994 and at two long-term stream-monitoing sites on the East and West Branches of the Red Clay Creek in 1993-94. The average concentrations of chloride and nitrate in ground-water samples from wells in areas above the headwater stream sites and two long-term stream-monitoring sites were similar to the concentrations of chloride and nitrate in base flow at those sites. An observed increase in nitrate concentration in base flow at the long-term monitoring site on the West Branch of Red Clay Creek from 1970 to 1995 may be related to an increase in nitrate concentrations in ground water in that area of the basin.

Suggested Citation

Senior, L.A., 1996, Ground-water quality and its relation to hydrogeology, land use, and surface-water quality in the Red Clay Creek basin, Piedmont Physiographic Province, Pennsylvania and Delaware: U.S. Geological Survey Water-Resources Investigations Report 1996–4288, 122 p.,

Table of Contents

  • Abstract
  • Introduction 
  • Factors affecting ground-water quality
  • Ground-water quality
  • Relation of ground-water quality to hydrogeology
  • Relation of ground-water quality to land use
  • Relation of ground-water quality to surface-water quality
  • Summary
  • References cited
Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Ground-water quality and its relation to hydrogeology, land use, and surface-water quality in the Red Clay Creek basin, Piedmont Physiographic Province, Pennsylvania and Delaware
Series title Water-Resources Investigations Report
Series number 96-4288
DOI 10.3133/wri964288
Year Published 1996
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Pennsylvania Water Science Center
Description Report: viii, 122 p.; Plate: 27.0 x 33.8 inches
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
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