Water-supply withdrawals and wastewater disposal in the Assabet River Basin in eastern Massachusetts alter the flow and water quality in the basin. Wastewater discharges and stream-flow depletion from ground-water withdrawals adversely affect water quality in the Assabet River, especially during low-flow months (late summer) and in headwater areas. Streamflow depletion also contributes to loss of aquatic habitat in tributaries to the river. In 19972001, water-supply withdrawals averaged 9.9 million gallons per day (Mgal/d). Wastewater discharges to the Assabet River averaged 11 Mgal/d and included about 5.4 Mgal/d that originated from sources outside of the basin. The effects of current (2004) and future withdrawals and discharges on water resources in the basin were investigated in this study.
Steady-state and transient ground-water-flow models were developed, by using MODFLOW-2000, to simulate flow in the surficial glacial deposits and underlying crystalline bedrock in the basin. The transient model simulated the average annual cycle at dynamic equilibrium in monthly intervals. The models were calibrated to 19972001 conditions of water withdrawals, wastewater discharges, water levels, and nonstorm streamflow (base flow plus wastewater discharges). Total flow through the simulated hydrologic system averaged 195 Mgal/d annually. Recharge from precipitation and ground-water discharge to streams were the dominant inflow and outflow, respectively. Evapotranspiration of ground water from wetlands and non-wetland areas also were important losses from the hydrologic system. Water-supply withdrawals and infiltration to sewers averaged 5 and 1.3 percent, respectively, of total annual out-flows and were larger components (12 percent in September) of the hydrologic system during low-flow months. Water budgets for individual tributary and main stem subbasins identified areas, such as the Fort Meadow Brook and the Assabet Main Stem Upper subbasins, where flows resulting from anthropo-genic activities were relatively large percentages, compared to other subbasins, (more than 20 percent in September) of total out-flows. Wastewater flows in the Assabet River accounted for 55, 32, and 20 percent of total nonstorm streamflow (base flow plus wastewater discharge) out of the Assabet Main Stem Upper, Middle, and Lower subbasins, respectively, in an average September.
The ground-water-flow models were used to evaluate water-management alternatives by simulating hypothetical scenarios of altered withdrawals and discharges. A scenario that included no water management quantified nonstorm stream-flows that would result without withdrawals, discharges, septic-system return flow, or consumptive use. Tributary flows in this scenario increased in most subbasins by 2 to 44 percent relative to 19972001 conditions. The increases resulted mostly from variable combinations of decreased withdrawals and decreased infiltration to sewers. Average annual nonstorm streamflow in the Assabet River decreased slightly in this scenario, by 2 to 3 percent annually, because gains in ground-water discharge were offset by the elimination of wastewater discharges.
A second scenario quantified the effects of increasing withdrawals and discharges to currently permitted levels. In this simulation, average annual tributary flows decreased in most subbasins, by less than 1 to 10 percent relative to 19972001 conditions. In the Assabet River, flows increased slightly, 1 to 5 percent annually, and the percentage of wastewater in the river increased to 69, 42, and 27 percent of total nonstorm streamflow out of the Assabet Main Stem Upper, Middle, and Lower subbasins, respectively, in an average September.
A third set of scenarios quantified the effects of ground-water discharge of wastewater at four hypothetical sites, while maintaining 19972000 wastewater discharges to the Assabet River. Wastewater, discharged at a constant rate that varied among sites from 0.3 to 1
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Simulation of ground-water flow and evaluation of water-management alternatives in the Assabet River Basin, Eastern Massachusetts