rom 2005 to 2007, the U.S. Geological Survey and the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Division of Water Quality, conducted a study to describe the geologic framework, measure groundwater quality, characterize the groundwater-flow system, and describe the groundwater/surface-water interaction at the 60-acre Raleigh hydrogeologic research station (RHRS) located at the Neuse River Waste Water Treatment Plant in eastern Wake County, North Carolina. Previous studies have shown that the local groundwater quality of the surficial and bedrock aquifers at the RHRS had been affected by high levels of nutrients. Geologic, hydrologic, and water-quality data were collected from 3 coreholes, 12 wells, and 4 piezometers at 3 well clusters, as well as from 2 surface-water sites, 2 multiport piezometers, and 80 discrete locations in the streambed of the Neuse River. Data collected were used to evaluate the three primary zones of the Piedmont aquifer (regolith, transition zone, and fractured bedrock) and characterize the interaction of groundwater and surface water as a mechanism of nutrient transport to the Neuse River. A conceptual hydrogeologic cross section across the RHRS was constructed using new and existing data. Two previously unmapped north striking, nearly vertical diabase dikes intrude the granite beneath the site. Groundwater within the diabase dike appeared to be hydraulically isolated from the surrounding granite bedrock and regolith. A correlation exists between foliation and fracture orientation, with most fractures striking parallel to foliation. Flowmeter logging in two of the bedrock wells indicated that not all of the water-bearing fractures labeled as water bearing were hydraulically active, even when stressed by pumping. Groundwater levels measured in wells at the RHRS displayed climatic and seasonal trends, with elevated groundwater levels occurring during the late spring and declining to a low in the late fall. Vertical gradients in the groundwater discharge area near the Neuse River were complex and were affected by fluctuations in river stage, with the exception of a well completed in a diabase dike. Water-quality data from the wells and surface-water sites at the RHRS were collected continuously as well as during periodic sampling events. Surface-water samples collected from a tributary were most similar in chemical composition to groundwater found in the regolith and transition zone. Nitrate (measured as nitrite plus nitrate, as nitrogen) concentrations in the sampled wells and tributary ranged from about 5 to more than 120 milligrams per liter as nitrogen. Waterborne continuous resistivity profiling conducted on the Neuse River in the area of the RHRS measured areas of low apparent resistivity that likely represent groundwater contaminated by high concentrations of nitrate. These areas were located on either side of a diabase dike and at the outfall of two unnamed tributaries. The diabase dike preferentially directed the discharge of groundwater to the Neuse River and may isolate groundwater movement laterally. Discrete temperature measurements made within the pore water beneath the Neuse River revealed seeps of colder groundwater discharging into warmer surface water near a diabase dike. Water-quality samples collected from the pore water beneath the Neuse River indicated that nitrate was present at concentrations as high as 80 milligrams per liter as nitrogen on the RHRS side of the river. The highest concentrations of nitrate were located within pore water collected from an area near a diabase dike that was identified as a suspected seepage area. Hydraulic head was measured and pore water samples were collected from two 140-centimeter-deep (55.1-inch-deep) multiport piezometers that were installed in bed sediments on opposite sides of a diabase dike. The concentration of nitrate in pore water at a suspected seepage area ranged from 42 to 82 milligrams per liter as nitrogen with a median concentration of 79 milligrams per liter as nitrogen. On the opposite side of the dike, concentrations of nitrate in pore water samples ranged from 3 to 91 milligrams per liter as nitrogen with a median concentration of 52 milligrams per liter. At one of the multiport piezometers the vertical gradient of hydraulic head between the Neuse River and the groundwater was too small to measure. At the multiport piezometer located in the suspected seepage area, an upward gradient of about 0.1 was present and explains the occurrence of higher concentrations of nitrate near the sediment/water interface. Horizontal seepage flux from the surficial aquifer to the edge of the Neuse River was estimated for 2006. Along a 130-foot flow path, the estimated seepage flux ranged from –0.52 to 0.2 foot per day with a median of 0.09 foot per day. The estimated advective horizontal mass flux of nitrate along a 300-foot reach of the Neuse River ranged from –10.9 to 5 pounds per day with a median of 2.2 pounds per day. The total horizontal mass flux of nitrate from the surficial aquifer to the Neuse River along the 130-foot flow path was estimated to be about 750 pounds for all of 2006. Seepage meters were deployed on the bed of the Neuse River in the areas of the multiport piezometers on either side of the diabase dike to estimate rates of vertical groundwater discharge and flux of nitrate. The average estimated daily seepage flux differed by two orders of magnitude between seepage areas. The potential vertical flux of nitrate from groundwater to the Neuse River was estimated at an average of 2.5 grams per day near one of the multiport piezometers and an average of 784 grams per day at the other. These approximations suggest that under some hydrologic conditions there is the potential for substantial quantities of nitrate to discharge from the groundwater to the Neuse River.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Hydrogeology, groundwater seepage, nitrate distribution, and flux at the Raleigh hydrologic research station, Wake County, North Carolina, 2005-2007