Simulated responses of streams and ponds to groundwater withdrawals and wastewater return flows in southeastern Massachusetts

Scientific Investigations Report 2015-5168
Prepared in cooperation with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection
By: , and 



Water use, such as withdrawals, wastewater return flows, and interbasin transfers, can alter streamflow regimes, water quality, and the integrity of aquatic habitat and affect the availability of water for human and ecosystem needs. To provide the information needed to determine alteration of streamflows and pond water levels in southeastern Massachusetts, existing groundwater models of the Plymouth-Carver region and western (Sagamore flow lens) and eastern (Monomoy flow lens) Cape Cod were used to delineate subbasins and simulate long-term average and average monthly streamflows and pond levels for a series of water-use conditions. Model simulations were used to determine the extent to which streamflows and pond levels were altered by comparing simulated streamflows and pond levels under predevelopment conditions with streamflows and pond levels under pumping only and pumping with wastewater return flow conditions. The pumping and wastewater return flow rates used in this study are the same as those used in previously published U.S. Geological Survey studies in southeastern Massachusetts and represent the period from 2000 to 2005. Streamflow alteration for the nontidal portions of streams in southeastern Massachusetts was evaluated within and at the downstream outlets of 78 groundwater subbasins delineated for this study. Evaluation of streamflow alteration at subbasin outlets is consistent with the approach used by the U.S. Geological Survey for the topographically derived subbasins in the rest of Massachusetts.

The net effect of pumping and wastewater return flows on streamflows and pond levels varied by location and included no change in areas minimally affected by water use, decreases in areas affected more by pumping than by wastewater return flows, or increases in areas affected more by wastewater return flows than by pumping. Simulated alterations to long-term average streamflows at subbasin outlets in response to pumping with wastewater return flows were within about 10 percent of predevelopment streamflows for most of the subbasins in the study area. Alterations ranged from a decrease (depletion) of 43.9 percent at an unnamed tributary to Salt Pond in the Plymouth-Carver region to an increase (surcharge) of 18.2 percent at an unnamed tributary to the Centerville River on western Cape Cod. In general, the relative effects of pumping and wastewater return flows typically were larger in the subbasins with low streamflows than in the subbasins with high streamflows, and there were more depleted streamflows than surcharged streamflows. Increases in streamflows in response to wastewater return flows were generally largest in subbasins with a high density of septic systems or a centralized wastewater treatment facility. For average monthly conditions, streamflow alteration results were similar spatially to results for long-term average conditions. However, differences in the extent of alteration by month were observed; percentage streamflow depletions in most subbasins typically were greatest during the low-streamflow months of August and October.

The percentages of the total number of ponds affected by pumping with wastewater return flows under long-term average conditions in the modeled areas were 28 percent for the Plymouth-Carver region, 67 percent for western Cape Cod, and 75 percent for eastern Cape Cod. Pond-level alterations ranged from a decrease of 4.6 feet at Great South Pond in the Plymouth Carver region to an increase of 0.9 feet at Wequaquet Lake in western Cape Cod. The magnitudes of monthly alterations to pond water levels were fairly consistent throughout the year.

Suggested Citation

Carlson, C.S., Walter, D.A., and Barbaro, J.R., 2015, Simulated responses of streams and ponds to groundwater withdrawals and wastewater return flows in southeastern Massachusetts: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2015–5168, 60 p.,

ISSN: 2328-0328 (online)

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Hydrologic Setting
  • Methods of Investigation
  • Simulated Responses of Streamflows and Pond Levels to Pumping and Wastewater  Return Flows
  • Limitations
  • Summary
  • References Cited
  • Appendix 1. Development of Transient Groundwater Models for Cape Cod
  • Appendix 2. Simulated Changes to Streamflows and Pond Levels
  • Appendix 3. Landscape Characteristics in Simulated Groundwater Contributing  Areas to Streams

Additional publication details

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Simulated responses of streams and ponds to groundwater withdrawals and wastewater return flows in southeastern Massachusetts
Series title Scientific Investigations Report
Series number 2015-5168
DOI 10.3133/sir20155168
Year Published 2015
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Massachusetts Water Science Center
Description Report: vii, 60 p.; 2 Tables; 2 Appendixes
Country United States
State Massachusetts
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Additional Online Files (Y/N) Y
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
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