The Rhode Island Water Resources Board is considering use of groundwater resources from the Big River Management Area in central Rhode Island because increasing water demands in Rhode Island may exceed the capacity of current sources. Previous water-resources investigations in this glacially derived, valley-fill aquifer system have focused primarily on the effects of potential groundwater-pumping scenarios on streamflow depletion; however, the effects of groundwater withdrawals on wetlands have not been assessed, and such assessments are a requirement of the State’s permitting process to develop a water supply in this area.
A need for an assessment of the potential effects of pumping on wetlands in the Big River Management Area led to a cooperative agreement in 2008 between the Rhode Island Water Resources Board, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the University of Rhode Island. This partnership was formed with the goal of developing methods for characterizing wetland vegetation, soil type, and hydrologic conditions, and monitoring and modeling water levels for pre- and post-water-supply development to assess potential effects of groundwater withdrawals on wetlands. This report describes the hydrogeology of the area and the numerical simulations that were used to analyze the interaction between groundwater and surface water in response to simulated groundwater withdrawals.
The results of this analysis suggest that, given the hydrogeologic conditions in the Big River Management Area, a standard 5-day aquifer test may not be sufficient to determine the effects of pumping on water levels in nearby wetlands. Model simulations showed water levels beneath Reynolds Swamp declined by about 0.1 foot after 5 days of continuous pumping, but continued to decline by an additional 4 to 6 feet as pumping times were increased from a 5-day simulation period to a simulation period representative of long-term average monthly conditions. This continued decline in water levels with increased pumping time is related to the shift from the primary source of water to the pumped wells being derived from aquifer storage during the early-time (5 days) simulation to being derived more from induced infiltration from the flooded portion of the Big River (southernmost extent of the Flat River Reservoir) during the months of March through October or from captured groundwater discharge to this portion of the Big River when the downstream Flat River Reservoir is drained for weed control during the months of November through February, as was the case for the long-term monthly conditions.