Hydrogeology, digital solute-transport simulation, and geochemistry of the Lower Cretaceous aquifer system near Baltimore, Maryland

Maryland Geological Survey Report of Investigations 43
Prepared in cooperation with the United States Department of the Interior Geological Survey
By:
Compiled by: Tracey M. with a section compiled by Kean

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Abstract

This study was made to develop information on the hydrogeology and ground-water geochemistry of the Patuxent and Patapsco aquifers (Lower Cretaceous) near Baltimore, Maryland. This information is needed to evaluate the availability and chemical quality of water from these aquifers.

The Patuxent aquifer unconformably overlies Lower Paleozoic and Precambrian basement rocks and consists primarily of medium- to coarse-grained quartz sand. Discontinuous lenses of gravel and silty clay are commonly interbedded with the sand-sized material. The Patuxent aquifer in this area attains a thickness of 250 feet and transmissivities range from 2,000 to 8,000 feet squared per day. The Patuxent is the most productive source of ground water in the Baltimore area. In 1982, approximately 11 million gallons of water per day was produced from this unit. Several cones of depression, ranging from 30 to 50 feet below sea level, have developed in response to this pumping stress.

The Arundel Formation conformably overlies the Patuxent aquifer. The Arundel is composed predominantly of clay and ranges from 0 to 150 feet thick. The Arundel exhibits very low vertical hydraulic conductivities that are on the order of 10-9 to 10-11 feet per second. This unit acts as the upper confining bed of the Patuxent aquifer in much of the project area. The Patapsco aquifer unconformably overlies the Arundel Formation and is a medium- to fine-grained quartz sand. The Patapsco functions as a water-table aquifer in much of the project area. Although the Patapsco has been heavily pumped in the past, pumpage from that aquifer in Baltimore was negligible in 1982.

Brackish-water contamination of the Patuxent and Patapsco aquifers has been a major water-quality problem since the early 1900's. The Patuxent aquifer presently (1982) contains a circular plume of brackish-water contamination about 5 miles in diameter. This plume is centered on the Harbor district and has enlarged measurably since 1945. The Patapsco aquifer has a smaller zone of brackish-water contamination that has decreased in size since 1945. Borehole data demonstrate that the Arundel Formation has been breached by Pleistocene river channels near the Harbor district. These erosional channels provide a conduit for brackish water to intrude into the Patuxent aquifer. A two-dimensional areal solute-transport model of the Patuxent aquifer was constructed. This model was designed to estimate the future movement of the brackish-water plume based on alternative scenarios of aquifer use. Model simulations suggest that the plume will remain relatively immobile if 1982 pumping patterns continue into the foreseeable future. However, increased pumpage in the Marley Neck peninsula could draw the plume to the southeast and increase contamination of the Fairfield area.

The water quality of the Patuxent aquifer is extremely variable. Because of this variability, it is useful to divide the aquifer into three water-quality zones: Zone 1 -- This zone corresponds to the plume of brackish-water contamination. Zone 2 -- This zone exhibits evidence of urbanization-related contamination such as measurable concentrations of organic chemicals and elevated concentrations of trace elements and total organic carbon. Zone 3 -- Water composition in this zone is controlled exclusively by naturally occurring chemical processes. These processes are dominated by reactions involving dissolved iron. Near the outcrop area, oxidation of pyrite and lignite consumes dissolved oxygen and produces ledges of iron hydroxide-cemented sandstones and conglomerates. The predominant dissolved iron species in oxic water is Fe(OH)2+. Downgradient, the water becomes anoxic and sulfate reduction becomes an important process. The predominant dissolved iron species in anoxic water is Fe2+.

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Additional publication details

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype State/Local Government Series
Title Hydrogeology, digital solute-transport simulation, and geochemistry of the Lower Cretaceous aquifer system near Baltimore, Maryland
Series title Maryland Geological Survey Report of Investigations
Series number 43
Year Published 1985
Language English
Publisher Maryland Geological Survey
Description Report: vi, 120 p.; 2 Plates: 12.35 x 15.77 inches and 13.82 x 9.30 inches
Country United States
State Maryland
City Baltimore
Additional Online Files (Y/N) Y