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USGS North Carolina Water Science Center Publication
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Hydrogeologic Setting, Ground-Water Flow, and Ground-Water Quality at the Lake Wheeler Road Research Station, 2001–03

North Carolina Piedmont and Mountains Resource Evaluation Program

Prepared in cooperation with the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Division of Water Quality

Scientific Investigations Report 2005–5166
By Melinda J. Chapman, Richard E. Bolich, and Brad A. Huffman

Complete report in PDF (99 pages, 6.6 MB)
Revised May 1, 2009


Results of a 2-year field study of the regolith-fractured bedrock ground-water system at the Lake Wheeler Road research station in Wake County, North Carolina, indicate both disconnection and interaction among components of the ground-water system. The three components of the ground-water system include (1) shallow, porous regolith; (2) a transition zone, including partially weathered rock, having both secondary (fractures) and primary porosity; and (3) deeper, fractured bedrock that has little, if any, primary porosity and is dominated by secondary fractures. The research station includes 15 wells (including a well transect from topographic high to low settings) completed in the three major components of the ground-water-flow system and a surface-water gaging station on an unnamed tributary.

The Lake Wheeler Road research station is considered representative of a felsic gneiss hydrogeologic unit having steeply dipping foliation and a relatively thick overlying regolith. Bedrock foliation generally strikes N. 10° E. to N. 30° E. and N. 20° W. to N. 40° W. to a depth of about 400 feet and dips between 70° and 80° SE. and NE., respectively. From 400 to 600 feet, the foliation generally strikes N. 70° E. to N. 80° E., dipping 70° to 80° SE. Depth to bedrock locally ranges from about 67 to 77 feet below land surface. Fractures in the bedrock generally occur in two primary sets: low dip angle, stress relief fractures that cross cut foliation, and steeply dipping fractures parallel to foliation.

Findings of this study generally support the conceptual models of ground-water flow from high to low topographic settings developed for the Piedmont and Blue Ridge Provinces in previous investigations, but are considered a refinement of the generalized conceptual model based on a detailed local-scale investigation. Ground water flows toward a surface-water boundary, and hydraulic gradients generally are downward in recharge areas and upward in discharge areas; however, local variations in vertical gradients are apparent.

Water-quality sampling and monitoring efforts were conducted to characterize the interaction of components of the ground-water system. Elevated nitrate concentrations as high as 22 milligrams per liter were detected in shallow ground water from the regolith at the study site. These elevated nitrate concentrations likely are related to land use, which includes agricultural practices that involve animal feeding operations and crop fertilization. Continuous ground-water-quality data indicate seasonal fluctuations in field water-quality properties, differences with respect to depth, and fluctuations during recharge events. Water-quality properties recorded in the regolith well following rainfall indicate the upwelling of deeper ground water in the discharge area, likely from ground water in the transition-zone fractures. Additionally, interaction with a surface-water boundary appears likely in the ground-water discharge area, as water levels in all three ground-water zones, including the deep bedrock, mimic the surface-water rise during rainfall.

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