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Scientific Investigations Report 2014–5169

Prepared in cooperation with the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority

Hydrogeology, Hydraulic Characteristics, and Water-Quality Conditions in the Surficial, Castle Hayne, and Peedee Aquifers of the Greater New Hanover County Area, North Carolina, 2012–13

By Kristen Bukowski McSwain, Laura N. Gurley, and Dominick J. Antolino

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (5.6 MB)Abstract

A major issue facing the greater New Hanover County, North Carolina, area is the increased demand for drinking water resources as a result of rapid growth. The principal sources of freshwater supply in the greater New Hanover County area are withdrawals of surface water from the Cape Fear River and groundwater from the underlying Castle Hayne and Peedee aquifers. Industrial, mining, irrigation, and aquaculture groundwater withdrawals increasingly compete with public-supply utilities for freshwater resources. Future population growth and economic expansion will require increased dependence on high-quality sources of fresh groundwater.

An evaluation of the hydrogeology and water-quality conditions in the surficial, Castle Hayne, and Peedee aquifers was conducted in New Hanover, eastern Brunswick, and southern Pender Counties, North Carolina. A hydrogeologic framework was delineated by using a description of the geologic and hydrogeologic units that compose aquifers and their confining units. Current and historic water-level, water-quality, and water-isotope data were used to approximate the present boundary between freshwater and brackish water in the study area.

Water-level data collected during August–September 2012 and March 2013 in the Castle Hayne aquifer show that recharge areas with the highest groundwater altitudes are located in central New Hanover County, and the lowest are located in a discharge area along the Atlantic Ocean. Between 1964 and 2012, groundwater levels in the Castle Hayne aquifer in central New Hanover County have rebounded by about 10 feet, but in the Pages Creek area groundwater levels declined in excess of 20 feet. In the Peedee aquifer, the August–September 2012 groundwater levels were affected by industrial withdrawals in north-central New Hanover County. Groundwater levels in the Peedee aquifer declined more than 20 feet between 1964 and 2012 in northeastern New Hanover County because of increased withdrawals. Vertical gradients calculated between the Castle Hayne and Peedee aquifers at six well cluster sites were downward in August–September 2012 and March 2013 with the exception of one well pair that had a slight upward gradient in March 2013.

Major ion chemistry results from samples collected in August–September 2012 from 97 well sites suggest that seawater is mixing with groundwater in both the Castle Hayne and Peedee aquifers in several locations in Brunswick, New Hanover, and Pender Counties. The 250 milligram per liter line of equal chloride concentration has moved inland in both aquifers since 1965, with the area between Futch and Pages Creeks in northeastern New Hanover County experiencing the greatest increase. Groundwater from the surficial, Castle Hayne, and Peedee aquifers had a stable isotope of water composition similar to that of modern precipitation. A comparison of chloride concentration data collected from public-supply wells in the 1960s with that collected in 2012 shows marked increases in chloride concentrations in the Peedee aquifer near the town of Carolina Beach at the southern end of New Hanover County.

First posted September 2, 2014

For additional information, contact:
Director, North Carolina Water Science Center
U.S. Geological Survey
3916 Sunset Ridge Road
Raleigh, NC 27607

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Suggested citation:

McSwain, K.B., Gurley, L.N., and Antolino, D.J., 2014, Hydrogeology, hydraulic characteristics, and water-quality conditions in the surficial, Castle Hayne and Peedee aquifers of the greater New Hanover County area, North Carolina, 2012–13: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2014–5169, 52 p.,

ISSN 2328-0328 (online)





Hydrogeology of the Study Area

Hydraulic Characteristics of the Study Area

Water-Quality Conditions

Stable Isotopes of Water

Groundwater-Level Declines and Saltwater Intrusion


References Cited


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