Water resources inventory of Connecticut Part 5: lower Housatonic River basin

Connecticut Water Resources Bulletin 19

Prepared by the U.S. Geological Survey in cooperation with the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection
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The 557 square miles of the lower Housatonic River basin in western Connecticut include the basins of two major tributaries, the Pomperaug and Naugatuck Rivers. Nearly all water is derived from precipitation, which averaged 47 inches per year during 1931-60, In this period an additional 570 billion gallons of water per year entered the basin in the main stem of the Housatonic River at Lake Lillinonah, and some water was imported by water-supply systems from outside the basin. Almost half the precipitation--21.6 inches--was lost from the basin by evapotranspiration. Except for small amounts exported, the remainder discharged as runoff and underflow into Long Island Sound.

Variations in streamflow at 6 long-term continuous-record gaging stations are summarized in standardized graphs and tables that can be used to estimate streamflow characteristics at other sites. For example, mean flow and two low-flow characteristics, the 7-day annual minimum flow for 2-year and 10-year recurrence intervals, have been determined for many partial-record stations throughout the basin.

Of the 37 principal lakes, ponds, and reservoirs in the basin, 6 have usable storage of more than 1 billion gallons. The “maximum safe draft rate” (described in: “Storage of Water in Lakes and Reservoirs”) of the largest of these, Thomaston Reservoir near Thomaston, is 75.6 million gallons per day for the 10-year and 20-year recurrence intervals of annual lowest mean flow.

Floods have occurred during every month, at one time or another. The two greatest floods on the Naugatuck River in historical time occurred 2 months apart in 1955. The larger, in August, had a peak of 106,000 cfs (cubic feet per second) at Beacon Falls. Since then, the likelihood of major floods has been considerably reduced by a program of flood control in the basin.

Water can be obtained from three aquifers under-lying the basin-stratified drift, till, and bedrock. Stratified drift covers about 16 percent of the basin, mostly in valleys and lowlands, and its saturated part generally ranges in thickness from 10 feet in small valleys to 200 feet in the Housatonic River valley. Its transmissivity ranges from 0 to 47,000 ft2/day (feet shared per day). Till, deposited directly by glacial ice, forms a widespread but discontinuous mantle over bedrock in most upland areas and extends beneath stratified drift in lowlands; it ranges in thickness from 0 to 200 feet. The median value of 31 published determinations of hydraulic conductivity of till in southern New England is 0.67 ft/day and ranges from 0.013 to 29 ft/day. Crystalline bedrock underlies most of the basin and is composed principally of granite, gneiss, and schist. Sedimentary volcanic bedrock underlies only the Pomperaug River basin. Regardless of rock type, water is obtained mostly from fractures.

Streambed deposits are significant features of the hydrogeologic system because they affect the amount of water from streams and lakes that can be induced to infiltrate aquifers. Based on field tests, characteristic values of vertical hydraulic conductivity of streambed deposits are 0.40 ft/day for fine-grained deposits and 14 ft/day for gravelly deposits.

Ground-water supplies generally range in yield from several millions of gallons per day from large well fields to 1 gpm (gallons per minute) from single wells. Large supplies, with yields of 100 gpm or more from individual wells, are most commonly obtained from stratified drift. Yields to be expected from screened wells tapping this aquifer can be calculated by use of a series of graphs in conjunction with estimates of transmissivity and aquifer thickness.

The yields of 14 principal ground-water reservoirs are estimated from aquifer characteristics and also from the amount of water that can be obtained from aquifer storage, from interception or runoff, and from infiltration of streamflow at low-flow conditions, using a hypothetical well-field arrangement for each reservoir. It is assumed that induced infiltration is restricted to an amount equal to the 7-day annual minimum stream-flow for a 2-year recurrence interval. Yields range from 1.4 to 15 mgd (million gallons per day) during periods of no recharge, and from 2.0 to 17 mgd during recharge periods.

Small to moderate water supplies can be obtained from any of the aquifers under suitable conditions. For example, data from 294 wells in the basin indicate that yields of a few gallons per minute can be obtained from bedrock at most sites. The likelihood of obtaining an adequate domestic supply is slightly greater in granite than in schist and also is greater where the overburden is stratified drift rather than till.

Chemical analyses of precipitation samples collected monthly from five stations in the basin during a 9-month period in 1966 show that rainfall is acidic and that sulfate is the dominant anion, probably because of industrial fumes and smoke within and near the basin.

Where unaffected by man’s activities, water in the basin is generally low in dissolved-solids concentration, is of the calcium magnesium bicarbonate type, and is soft to moderately hard. In general, streamflow is less mineralized than ground water, particularly when it consists largely of direct runoff. However, streamflow becomes more highly mineralized during low-flow conditions, when most of it consists of more highly mineralized water discharged from aquifers. The median value of dissolved-solids concentration of water at 22 stream sites was 51 mg/1 (milligrams per liter) during high flow, and 68 mg/1 during low flow within the study period. Iron and manganese occur naturally in objectionable concentrations in parts of the basin, particularly in streams draining swamps and in water from bedrock containing iron and manganese-bearing minerals.

Man’s activities have degraded the quality of water in streams in much of the basin, except in the Pomperaug subbasin. In the Naugatuck River basin, the degradation in quality is shown by wide and erratic changes in dissolved-solids concentration, excessive amounts of certain trace elements, a low dissolved oxygen content, and abnormally high temperatures. Ground water is degraded principally by induced infiltration of stream water containing chemical wastes, by wastes stored on the ground and by effluents from septic tanks.

Below its confluence with the Naugatuck River, much of the Housatonic River and adjoining marshes, wetlands, and aquifers contain salt water. Measurements of specific conductance during low-flow conditions in 1969 indicate that the dissolved-solids concentration of water in the estuary ranged from 210 mg/1 near Twomile Island to 20,000 mg/1 near Long Island Sound.

The quantity and quality of water in the basin are satisfactory for a wide variety of uses, and, with suitable treatment, the water may be used for most purposes. In 1967, the total amount of water used in the basin was about 194 billion gallons. About 90 percent of this was used for industrial purposes, and 95 percent of the industrial water was obtained from surface-water sources. In the same year, 17 municipal and private water-supply systems supplied water of satisfactory quality to about three-fourths of the population.

Geospatial Extents

Additional Publication Details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
State/Local Government Series
Water resources inventory of Connecticut Part 5: lower Housatonic River basin
Series title:
Connecticut Water Resources Bulletin
Series number:
Year Published:
Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection
Report: viii, 79 p.; 6 Plates: 28.66 x 40.55 inches and smaller
Number of Pages:
United States
Other Geospatial:
Housatonic River Basin