In 2002, the U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Tompkins County Planning Department began a series of studies of the stratified-drift aquifers in Tompkins County to provide geohydrologic data for planners to develop a strategy to manage and protect their water resources. This aquifer study in lower Sixmile Creek and Willseyville Creek trough is the second in a series of aquifer studies in Tompkins County. The study area is within the northern area of the Appalachian Plateau and extends about 9 miles from the boundary between Tompkins County and Tioga County in the south to just south of the City of Ithaca in the north. In lower Sixmile Creek and Willseyville Creek trough, confined sand and gravel aquifers comprise the major water-bearing units while less extensive unconfined units form minor aquifers.
About 600 people who live in lower Sixmile Creek and Willseyville Creek trough rely on groundwater from the stratified-drift aquifer system. In addition, water is used by non-permanent residents such as staff at commercial facilities. The estimated total groundwater withdrawn for domestic use is about 45,000 gallons per day (gal/d) or 0.07 cubic foot per second (ft3/s) based on an average water use of 75 gal/d per person for self-supplied water systems in New York.
Scouring of bedrock in the preglacial lower Sixmile Creek and Willseyville Creek valleys by glaciers and subglacial meltwaters truncated hillside spurs, formed U-shaped, transverse valley profiles, smoothed valley walls, and deepened the valleys by as much as 300 feet (ft), forming a continuous trough. The unconsolidated deposits in the study area consist mostly of glacial drift, both unstratified drift (till) and stratified drift (laminated lake, deltaic, and glaciofluvial sediments), as well as some post-glacial stratified sediments (lake-bottom sediments that were deposited in reservoirs, peat and muck that were deposited in wetlands, and alluvium deposited by streams). Multiple advances and retreats of the ice in the study area resulted in several sequences of various types of glacial deposits. A large moraine (Valley Heads Moraine) dominates the southern part of the study area, a large delta dominates the central part, and ground moraine (mostly till) dominates the northern part. Glacial sediments in the center of the lower Sixmile Creek and Willseyville Creek trough typically range from 150 to 200 ft but can be greater than 300 ft in some places. Where the sediments are composed of sand and gravel they form aquifers.
In most parts of the lower Sixmile Creek and Willseyville Creek trough, there is an upper and a basal confined aquifer. However, underlying the central parts of the Brooktondale delta, there are as many as four confined aquifers, whereas in the northern part of the study area, only one extensive confined aquifer is present. The major sources of recharge to these confined aquifers are (1) direct infiltration of precipitation where confined aquifers crop out at land surface (mostly along the western trough wall in the southern and central parts of the study area and, to a lesser degree, along the eastern trough wall); (2) unchanneled surface and subsurface runoff from adjacent upland areas that seeps into the aquifer along the western trough walls; (3) subsurface flow from underlying till or bedrock at the lateral contacts at trough walls; (4) adjacent fine-grained stratified drift, especially when the aquifer is pumped; and (5) discharge from bedrock at the bottom and sides of the trough.
In the central part of the study area, the surficial coarse-grained sediments (sand and gravel) comprise a delta near Brooktondale and form a small unconfined aquifer (0.3 square mile). Although much of the upper part of the delta has been removed by several aggregate mining operations, sufficient amounts of sand and gravel remain in most places to form a thin unconfined aquifer. The major sources of recharge to the unconfined aquifer are (1)
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USGS Numbered Series
Geohydrology of the stratified-drift aquifer system in the lower Sixmile Creek and Willseyville Creek trough, Tompkins County, New York