Summary appraisals of the Nation's ground-water resources; Tennessee region

Professional Paper 813-L




Ground water is an abundant and little-used resource in the Tennessee Region, a 41,000 square mile area dominated by the Tennessee River system and including parts of Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. One-fifth to one-fourth of the precipitation that falls on the region enters the ground-water reservoirs. During the year approximately the same amount of water leaves the ground-water system, sustaining the dry-weather flow of streams. Recharge for the region is about 22,000 million gallons per day or 0.5 million gallons per day per square mile. The major types of aquifers in the region are unconsolidated material (including sand and regolith), carbonate rocks, and fractured noncarbonate rocks. One or more of these aquifer types occurs in each of the six physiographic subdivisions of the region. The productivity of these aquifers depends on their hydraulic properties and on the distribution of these properties. The unconsolidated sand aquifers are the most homogeneous in composition and most predictable in occurrence. These aquifers commonly yield 200 to 600 gallons per minute per well depending on the thickness of sand penetrated.

The most difficult aquifers to predict in regard to depth and yield are the carbonate rocks. In these aquifers it is possible to drill dry holes within a few hundred feet of wells capable of producing several thousand gallons per minute. However, with an adequate reconnaissance study to determine the occurrence of ground water and a planned test drilling program, yields of up to 300 gallons per minute per well can be expected in the carbonate aquifers. Potential yields from the fractured noncarbonate aquifers are lower than in the carbonate rocks.

The chemical and physical properties of ground water in the Tennessee Region are usually within the limits recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency for drinking water, and the ground water in all but some very shallow aquifers tends to be free of pathogenic microorganisms. Saline water is not known to occur in significant quantities in the region.

In 1970, 173 million gallons per day of ground water were used in the Tennessee Region. This was less than 8 percent of the total quantity of water used in the region and only 0.8 percent of the estimated ground-water recharge. Ground water is used chiefly as a source of water supply for rural areas and small towns. A lesser amount is used by industries and commercial establishments located beyond the limits of municipal water-supply systems. However, there is potential for significantly increased use in order to augment surface-water supplies and to utilize the total water resource more efficiently.

Hydrologic studies and adequate test drilling would greatly increase the chances of locating large amounts of ground water, especially in the nine-tenths of the Tennessee Region that is underlain by either carbonate rocks or fractured noncarbonate rocks which have highly variable water-bearing properties. Collectively, such studies are useful in developing a concept of the hydrologic system which would permit the development of criteria for selecting well sites in other areas with a similar geological and hydrological setting. Hydrologic studies that include test drilling have been conducted in all parts of the region except the Cumberland Plateau.

Some of the basic data necessary for hydrologic studies, such as geologic maps, well records, and streamflow records are available throughout the region. However, detailed information on groundwater levels, ground-water quality, and aquifer characteristics are not equally available throughout the region. This type of information cannot be obtained quickly when it is needed; it must be the product of a continuing program of studies designed to evaluate the Tennessee Region's ground-water resource.

Because of the interdependence of ground water and surface water, water management efforts can be fully effective only if they involve the whole water resource. In the Tennessee Region, surface water is highly controlled, but there is at present no regionwide water-resources management plan that includes ground water.

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Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Summary appraisals of the Nation's ground-water resources; Tennessee region
Series title:
Professional Paper
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Government Printing Office
Publisher location:
Washington, D.C.
iv., 35 p.
United States
Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia
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