Montgomery County is in the northern part of the Houston, Texas, metropolitan area, the fourth most populous metropolitan area in the United States. As populations have increased since the 1980s, groundwater has become an important resource for public-water supply and industry in the rapidly growing area of Montgomery County. Groundwater availability from the Gulf Coast aquifer system is a primary concern for water managers and community planners in Montgomery County and requires a better understanding of the rate of recharge to the system. The Gulf Coast aquifer system in Montgomery County consists of the Chicot, Evangeline, and Jasper aquifers, the Burkeville confining unit, and underlying Catahoula confining system. The individual sand and clay sequences of the aquifers composing the Gulf Coast aquifer system are not laterally or vertically continuous on a regional scale; however, on a local scale, individual sand and clay lenses can extend over several miles. The U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District, collected groundwater-quality samples from selected wells within or near Montgomery County in 2008 and analyzed these samples for concentrations of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), tritium (3H), helium-3/tritium (3He/3H), helium-4 (4He), and dissolved gases (DG) that include argon, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen and oxygen. Groundwater ages, or apparent age, representing residence times since time of recharge, were determined by using the assumption of a piston-flow transport model. Most of the environmental tracer data indicated the groundwater was recharged prior to the 1950s, limiting the usefulness of CFCs, SF6, and 3H concentrations as tracers. In many cases, no tracer was usable at a well for the purpose of estimating an apparent age. Wells not usable for estimating an apparent age were resampled in 2011 and analyzed for concentrations of major ions and carbon-14 (14C). At six of these wells, additional 4He and DG samples were collected and analyzed.
Recharge rates estimated from environmental tracer data are dependent upon several hydrogeologic variables and have inherent uncertainties. By using the recharge estimates derived from samples collected from 14 wells completed in the Chicot aquifer for which apparent groundwater ages could be determined, recharge to the Chicot aquifer ranged from 0.2 to 7.2 inches (in.) per year (yr). Based on data from one well, estimated recharge to the unconfined zone of the Evangeline aquifer (outcrop) was 0.1 in./yr. Based on data collected from eight wells, estimated rates of recharge to the confined zone of the Evangeline aquifer ranged from less than 0.1 to 2.8 in./yr. Based on data from one well, estimated recharge to the unconfined zone of the Jasper aquifer (outcrop) was 0.5 in./yr. Based on data collected from nine wells, estimated rates of recharge to the confined zone of the Jasper aquifer ranged from less than 0.1 to 0.1 in./yr. The complexity of the hydrogeology in the area, uncertainty in the conceptual model, and numerical assumptions required in the determination of the recharge rates all pose limitations and need to be considered when evaluating these data on a countywide or regional scale. The estimated recharge rates calculated for this study are specific to each well location and should not be extrapolated or inferred as a countywide average. Local variations in the hydrogeology and surficial conditions can affect the recharge rate at a local scale.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Estimated rates of groundwater recharge to the Chicot, Evangeline and Jasper aquifers by using environmental tracers in Montgomery and adjacent counties, Texas, 2008 and 2011