U.S. Geological Survey, Water Resources of Pennsylvania

Scientific Investigations Report 2005-5169

Drought-Sensitive Aquifer Settings in Southeastern Pennsylvania

By: Tammy M. Zimmerman and Dennis W. Risser

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This report describes the results of a study conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Bureau of Topographic and Geologic Survey, to determine drought-sensitive aquifer settings in southeastern Pennsylvania. Because all or parts of southeastern Pennsylvania have been in drought-warning or drought-emergency status during 6 of the past 10 years from 1994 through 2004, this information should aid well owners, drillers, and water-resource managers in guiding appropriate well construction and sustainable use of Pennsylvania's water resources.

"Drought-sensitive" aquifer settings are defined for this study as areas unable to supply adequate quantities of water to wells during drought. Using information from previous investigations and a knowledge of the hydrogeology and topography of the study area, drought-sensitive aquifer settings in southeastern Pennsylvania were hypothesized as being associated with two factors a water-table decline (WTD) index and topographic setting. The WTD index is an estimate of the theoretical water-table decline at the ground-water divide for a hypothetical aquifer with idealized geometry. The index shows the magnitude of ground-water decline after cessation of recharge is a function of (1) distance from stream to divide, (2) ground-water recharge rate, (3) transmissivity, (4) specific yield, and (5) duration of the drought. WTD indices were developed for 39 aquifers that were subsequently grouped into categories of high, moderate, and low WTD index.

Drought-sensitive settings determined from the hypothesized factors were compared to locations of wells known to have been affected (gone dry, replaced, or deepened) during recent droughts. Information collected from well owners, drillers, and public agencies identified 2,016 wells affected by drought during 1998-2002. Most of the available data on the location of drought-affected wells in the study area were from Chester and Montgomery Counties because those counties have well-construction regulations that identify wells that failed during drought. The locations of drought-affected wells in Chester and Montgomery Counties indicated the most highly sensitive settings are uplands and slopes in aquifers with high WTD index and uplands in aquifers with moderate WTD index. The least sensitive settings are in aquifers with low WTD index, in valleys, or on slopes. A map was developed showing the relative drought sensitivity (low, moderate, and high) of aquifers in southeastern Pennsylvania.

Study results were limited by the inability to obtain much information about the location of drought-affected wells, with the exception of Montgomery and Chester Counties. Also, the construction characteristics (particularly depth) of drought-affected wells generally were not available. Well depth could be used to distinguish between problems caused by shallow well depth (generally less than 100 ft) and those caused by deficiency of the aquifer to supply water. With the exception of owner-derived information from a public survey on drought-affected wells (35 wells), depth data were not obtained. Data from the 35 drought-affected wells indicated most were drilled (not dug) and were completed to depths greater than 100 feet. This finding indicates that the affects of recent droughts in southeastern Pennsylvania were not restricted to shallow dug wells, but also affected deeper drilled wells.

Table of Contents

     Purpose and Scope
     Description of Study Area
     Previous Studies
Hypothesized Drought-Sensitive Settings
          Height of Water Table
          Rate of Decline
          Water-Table Decline (WTD) Index
     Settings Categorized by Water-Table Decline Index
     Settings Categorized by Topographic Position
Documenting Drought-Affected Wells
     Well-Owner Survey
     Well-Driller and Agency Surveys
Comparing Hypothesized Drought-Sensitive Settings to Location of Drought-Affected Wells
     Water-Table Decline Index
     Topographic Position
     Combined Factors
Summary and Conclusions
References Cited

This report is available online in Portable Document Format (PDF). If you do not have the Adobe Acrobat PDF Reader, it is available for free download from Adobe Systems Incorporated.

View the full report in PDF - Version 1.1 (2.2 MB)
Errata sheet

For more information about USGS activities in Pennsylvania contact:
USGS Pennsylvania Water Science Center
215 Limekiln Road
New Cumberland, Pennsylvania 17070
Telephone: (717) 730-6960
Fax: (717) 730-6997
or access the USGS Water Resources of Pennsylvania home page at:

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