Relationships between surface-water discharge, water chemistry, and watershed geology were investigated to evaluate factors affecting the sensitivity of drainage waters in the Adirondack region of New York to acidification by atmospheric deposition. Instantaneous discharge per unit area was derived from relationships between flow and staff-gage readings at 10 drainage basins throughout the region. The average chemical composition of the waters was assessed from monthly samples collected from July 1982 through July 1984. The ratio of flow at the 50-percent exceedence level to the flow at the 95-percent exceedence level of flow duration was negatively correlated with mean values of alkalinity or acid-neutralizing capacity (ANC), sum of basic cations (SBC), and dissolved silica, for basins containing predominantly aluminosilicate minerals and little or no carbonate-bearing minerals. Low ratios are indicative of systems in which flow is predominately derived from surface- and ground-water storage, whereas high ratios are characteristic of watersheds with variable flow that is largely derived from surface runoff. In an evaluation of two representative surface-water sites, concentrations of ANC, SBC, and dissolved silica, derived primarily from soil mineral weathering reactions. decreased with increasing flow. Furthermore, the ANC was highest at low flow when the percentage of streamflow derived from ground water was maximum. As flow increased, the ANC decreased because the contribution of dilute surface runoff and lateral flow through the shallow acidic soil horizons to total flow increased. Basins having relatively high ground-water contributions to total flow, in general, have large deposits of thick till or stratified drift. A major factor controlling the sensitivity of these streams and lakes to acidification is the relative contribution of ground water to total discharge. ?? 1987 Martinus Nijhoff/Dr W. Junk Publishers.