This report describes the results of a study conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Bureau of Topographic and Geologic Survey, to determine drought-sensitive aquifer settings in southeastern Pennsylvania. Because all or parts of southeastern Pennsylvania have been in drought-warning or drought-emergency status during 6 of the past 10 years from 1994 through 2004, this information should aid well owners, drillers, and water-resource managers in guiding appropriate well construction and sustainable use of Pennsylvania's water resources.
'Drought-sensitive' aquifer settings are defined for this study as areas unable to supply adequate quantities of water to wells during drought. Using information from previous investigations and a knowledge of the hydrogeology and topography of the study area, drought-sensitive aquifer settings in southeastern Pennsylvania were hypothesized as being associated with two factors - a water-table decline (WTD) index and topographic setting. The WTD index is an estimate of the theoretical water-table decline at the ground-water divide for a hypothetical aquifer with idealized geometry. The index shows the magnitude of ground-water decline after cessation of recharge is a function of (1) distance from stream to divide, (2) ground-water recharge rate, (3) transmissivity, (4) specific yield, and (5) duration of the drought. WTD indices were developed for 39 aquifers that were subsequently grouped into categories of high, moderate, and low WTD index.
Drought-sensitive settings determined from the hypothesized factors were compared to locations of wells known to have been affected (gone dry, replaced, or deepened) during recent droughts. Information collected from well owners, drillers, and public agencies identified 2,016 wells affected by drought during 1998-2002. Most of the available data on the location of drought-affected wells in the study area were from Chester and Montgomery Counties because those counties have well-construction regulations that identify wells that failed during drought. The locations of drought-affected wells in Chester and Montgomery Counties indicated the most highly sensitive settings are uplands and slopes in aquifers with high WTD index and uplands in aquifers with moderate WTD index. The least sensitive settings are in aquifers with low WTD index, in valleys, or on slopes. A map was developed showing the relative drought sensitivity (low, moderate, and high) of aquifers in southeastern Pennsylvania.
Study results were limited by the inability to obtain much information about the location of drought-affected wells, with the exception of Montgomery and Chester Counties. Also, the construction characteristics (particularly depth) of drought-affected wells generally were not available. Well depth could be used to distinguish between problems caused by shallow well depth (generally less than 100 ft) and those caused by deficiency of the aquifer to supply water. With the exception of owner-derived information from a public survey on drought-affected wells (35 wells), depth data were not obtained. Data from the 35 drought-affected wells indicated most were drilled (not dug) and were completed to depths greater than 100 feet. This finding indicates that the affects of recent droughts in southeastern Pennsylvania were not restricted to shallow dug wells, but also affected deeper drilled wells.