Hydrogeology and water quality of the Leetown area, West Virginia

Open-File Report 2007-1358

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The U.S. Geological Survey’s Leetown Science Center and the co-located U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Center for Cool and Cold Water Aquaculture both depend on large volumes of cold clean ground water to support research operations at their facilities. Currently, ground-water demands are provided by three springs and two standby production wells used to augment supplies during periods of low spring flow. Future expansion of research operations at the Leetown Science Center is dependent on assessing the availability and quality of water to the facilities and in locating prospective sites for additional wells to augment existing water supplies. The hydrogeology of the Leetown area, West Virginia, is a structurally complex karst aquifer. Although the aquifer is a karst system, it is not typical of most highly cavernous karst systems, but is dominated by broad areas of fractured rock drained by a relatively small number of solution conduits. Characterization of the aquifer by use of fluorometric tracer tests, a common approach in most karst terranes, therefore only partly defines the hydrogeologic setting of the area. In order to fully assess the hydrogeology and water quality in the vicinity of Leetown, a multi-disciplinary approach that included both fractured rock and karst research components was needed.

The U.S. Geological Survey developed this multi-disciplinary research effort to include geologic, hydrologic, geophysical, geographic, water-quality, and microbiological investigations in order to fully characterize the hydrogeology and water quality of the Leetown area, West Virginia. Detailed geologic and karst mapping provided the framework on which hydrologic investigations were based. Fracture trace and lineament analysis helped locate potential water-bearing fractures and guided installation of monitoring wells. Monitoring wells were drilled for borehole geophysical surveys, water-quality sampling, water-level measurements, and aquifer tests to characterize the quality of water and the hydraulic properties of the aquifer. Surface geophysical surveys provided a 3-dimensional view of bedrock resistivity in order to assess geologic and lithologic controls on ground-water flow. Borehole geophysical surveys were conducted in monitoring wells to assess the storage and movement of water in subsurface fractures. Numerous single-well, multi-well, and straddle packer aquifer tests and step-drawdown tests were conducted to define the hydraulic properties of the aquifer and to assess the role of bedrock fractures and solution conduits in the flow of ground water. Water samples collected from wells and springs were analyzed to assess the current quality of ground water and provide a baseline for future assessment. Microbiological sampling of wells for indicator bacteria and human and animal DNA provided an analysis of agricultural and suburban development impacts on ground-water quality. Light detection and ranging (LiDAR) data were analyzed to develop digital elevation models (DEMs) for assessing sinkhole distribution, to provide elevation data for development of a ground-water flow model, and to assess the distribution of major fractures and faults in the Leetown area.

The flow of ground water in the study area is controlled by lithology and geologic structure. Bedrock, especially low permeability units such as the shale Martinsburg Formation and the Conococheague Limestone, act as barriers to water flowing down gradient and across bedding. This retardation of cross-strike flow is especially pronounced in the Leetown area, where bedding typically dips at steep angles. Highly permeable fault and fracture zones that disrupt the rocks in cross-strike directions provide avenues through which ground water can flow laterally across or through strata of low primary permeability. Significant strike parallel thrust faults and cross-strike faults typically coincide with larger solution conduits and act as drains for the more pervasive network of interconnected diffuse fractures.

Results of borehole geophysical surveys indicate that although numerous fractures may intersect a borehole, only one or two of the fractures typically transmit most of the water to a well. The diffuse-flow dominated network of fractures that provides the majority of storage occupies only a small proportion of the total aquifer volume but constitutes the majority of porosity within the aquifer. Solution conduits, while occupying a relatively small volume of the overall aquifer, are especially important because they serve as primary drains for the ground-water flow system. Surface resistivity maps and cross-sectionsshow anomalous areas of low resistivities coincident with the prevailing geologic strike at N. 20º E., with major cross-strike faults, and with major springs in the region.

Transmissivity derived from straddle packer tests was highly variable, and ranged over three orders of magnitude (1.8 x 10-6 to 5.9 x 10-3 ft2/d) in diffuse-flow fractures. A similar large variability in transmissivity was documented by single- and multi-well aquifer tests conducted in conduit-flow dominated portions of the aquifer (2.0 x 103 to 1.4 x 104 ft2/d) in lowland areas immediately adjacent to the Leetown Science Center.

A stream-gaging station installed on Hopewell Run near the point where the stream exits the Leetown watershed indicates average daily streamflow for the Hopewell Run of approximately 11.2 ft3/s, and ranged from a minimum of 1.80 ft3/s on September 28, 2005, to a maximum of 73.0 ft3/s on December 11, 2003. Base-flow (ground-water) discharge surveys identified numerous small seeps adjacent to streams in the area. Hydrographs of the stage of Balch Spring show rapid response to individual storms. Strong correlation of the flow of Hopewell Run and Balch Spring indicates the nearby losing stream reach is partly responsible for higher fluctuations in the stage of Balch Spring. A water budget for the study period (2003-2005), based on measured precipitation and hydrograph analyses, is expressed as Precipitation (38.60 in/yr) = Surface Runoff (1.36 in/yr) + Ground-Water Discharge (17.73 in/yr) + Evapotranspiration (24.23 in/yr) – Change in storage (4.72 in/yr).

Flow of ground water through the epikarst, a shallow zone of intensely weathered rock and regolith, can be rapid (on the order of days or weeks) as flow is concentrated in solution conduits. Flow within the intermediate and deeper zones is typically much slower. Eight dye-tracer tests conducted in the Leetown area found ground-water flow patterns to be divergent, with velocities ranging from about 12.5 to 610 ft/day and a median velocity of 50 ft/day. Estimates of ground-water age in carbonate rocks in the region are on the order of 15 years in the shallower portions of the aquifer to 50 years or older for deeper portions of the aquifer. Shallow springs can have a significant component of fairly young water (< 5 years in age).

Ground-water samples collected from 16 sites (12 wells and 4 springs) in the Leetown area were analyzed for more than 340 constituents. Only turbidity, indicator bacteria, and radon were typically present in concentrations exceeding U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) drinking-water or aquatic life standards.

Geospatial Extents

Additional Publication Details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Hydrogeology and water quality of the Leetown area, West Virginia
Series title:
Open-File Report
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Reston, VA
Contributing office(s):
West Virginia Water Science Center
Report: ix, 100 p.; 6 Appendices
Number of Pages:
United States
West Virginia
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