The Federal Clean Water Act requires that States monitor and report on the quality of ground water and surface water. To satisfy part of these requirements, the U.S. Geological Survey and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation have developed a program in which ground-water quality is assessed in 2 to 3 of New York State's 14 major river basins each year. To characterize the quality of ground water in the St. Lawrence River Basin in northern New York, water samples were collected from 14 domestic and 11 production wells between August 2005 and January 2006. Eight of the wells were finished in sand and gravel and 17 wells were finished in bedrock. Ground-water samples were collected and processed using standard U.S. Geological Survey procedures and were analyzed for 229 constituents and physical properties, including inorganic constituents, nutrients, trace elements, radon-222, pesticides and pesticide degradates, volatile organic compounds, and bacteria.
Sixty-six constituents were detected above laboratory reporting levels. Concentrations of most compounds at most sites were within drinking water standards established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and New York State Department of Health, but a few compounds exceeded drinking water standards at some sites. Water in the basin is generally hard to very hard (hardness equal to 121 mg/L as CaCO3 or greater); hardness and alkalinity were generally higher in the St. Lawrence Valley than in the Adirondack Mountains. The cation with the highest median concentration was calcium; the anion with the highest median concentration was bicarbonate. The concentration of chloride in one sample exceeded the 250 milligrams per liter U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Secondary Drinking Water Standard; the concentration of sulfate in one sample also exceeded the 250 milligrams per liter U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Secondary Drinking Water Standard. Nitrate was the predominant nutrient detected but no sample exceeded the 10 mg/L U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Maximum Contaminant Level. The trace elements detected with the highest median concentrations were strontium, barium, and iron. Concentration of trace elements in several samples exceeded U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Secondary Drinking Water Standards, including aluminum (50 micrograms per liter, 4 samples), iron (300 micrograms per liter, 5 samples), and manganese (50 micrograms per liter, 4 samples). The concentration of uranium in one sample from a domestic well finished in crystalline bedrock was three times the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Maximum Contaminant Level of 30 micrograms per liter.
The median concentration of radon-222 was 600 picoCuries per liter, but concentrations as high as 18,800 picoCuries per liter were detected; two wells with high radon concentrations also had high uranium concentrations. Radon-222 is not currently regulated, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed a Maximum Contaminant Level of 300 picoCuries per liter along with an Alternative Maximum Contaminant Level of 4,000 picoCuries per liter, to be in effect in states that have programs to address radon in indoor air. Concentrations of radon-222 exceeded the proposed Maximum Contaminant Level in 60 percent of samples and exceeded the proposed Alternative Maximum Contaminant Level in 8 percent of samples. Six pesticides and pesticide degradates were detected; all were amide or triazine herbicides or degradates. Five volatile organic compounds were detected, including disinfection byproducts such as trichloromethane and gasoline components or additives such as methyl tert-butyl ether. No pesticides, pesticide degradates, or volatile organic compounds were detected above established limits. Coliform bacteria, including Escherichia coli, were detected in three wells finished in carbonate bedrock.