Hydrologic assessment of the shallow groundwater flow system beneath the Shinnecock Nation tribal lands, Suffolk County, New York

Scientific Investigations Report 2016-5110

Prepared in cooperation with the Shinnecock Nation and the Suffolk County Department of Health Services
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Defining the distribution and flow of shallow groundwater beneath the Shinnecock Nation tribal lands in Suffolk County, New York, is a crucial first step in identifying sources of potential contamination to the surficial aquifer and coastal ecosystems. The surficial or water table aquifer beneath the tribal lands is the primary source of potable water supply for at least 6 percent of the households on the tribal lands. Oyster fisheries and other marine ecosystems are critical to the livelihood of many residents living on the tribal lands, but are susceptible to contamination from groundwater entering the embayment from the surficial aquifer. Contamination of the surficial aquifer from flooding during intense coastal storms, nutrient loading from fertilizers, and septic effluent have been identified as potential sources of human and ecological health concerns on tribal lands.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) facilitated the installation of 17 water table wells on and adjacent to the tribal lands during March 2014. These wells were combined with other existing wells to create a 32-well water table monitoring network that was used to assess local hydrologic conditions. Survey-grade, global-navigation-satellite systems provided centimeter-level accuracy for positioning wellhead surveys. Water levels were measured by the USGS during May (spring) and November (fall) 2014 to evaluate seasonal effects on the water table. Water level measurements were made at high and low tide during May 2014 to identify potential effects on the water table caused by changes in tidal stage (tidal flux) in Shinnecock Bay. Water level contour maps indicate that the surficial aquifer is recharged by precipitation and upgradient groundwater flow that moves from the recharge zone located generally beneath Sunrise Highway, to the discharge zone beneath the tribal lands, and eventually discharges into the embayment, tidal creeks, and estuaries that bound the tribal lands to the east, south, and west.

Water levels in many of the wells in the network fluctuated in response to precipitation, upgradient groundwater flow, and tidal flux in Shinnecock Bay. Water level altitudes ranged from 6.66 to 0.47 feet (ft) above the North American Vertical Datum of 1988 during the spring measurement period, and from 5.25 to -0.24 ft (NAVD 88) during fall 2014. Historically, annual and seasonal precipitation seem to indicate long-term water level trends in an index well located in the town of Southampton, correlates with changes in storage in the upper glacial aquifer, but does not necessarily indicate water level extremes in the shallow groundwater system. To place the study period in perspective, calendar year 2014 was the 32d wettest year on record, with precipitation for the year totaling 48.1 inches, a 2.6-percent increase from the annual average (46.9 inches per year), based on 81 years of complete record at the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, National Weather Service cooperative meteorological station at Bridgehampton, New York. Estimated recharge to the water table beneath the tribal lands from precipitation for 2014 is 25.4 inches.

Tidal flux caused water levels in wells to fluctuate from 0.30 to -0.24 ft during May 2014. Water levels in wells located north of Old Fort Pond and beneath the southernmost extent of the tribal lands were most influenced by tidal flux. During June 2014, hydrographs indicate that tidal flux influenced water levels by 0.48 ft in a well located near the southernmost extent of the tribal lands approximately 0.3 miles north of Shinnecock Bay, and was zero at a well located approximately 0.5 miles south of Montauk Highway, and 0.4 miles west of Heady Creek, near the geographic center of the tribal lands. Tidal-influence delay time (time interval between peak high-tide stage and corresponding peak high-water level) ranged from 1.75 hours at the well located near the southernmost extent of the tribal lands, to more than 4 hours at a well located north of Old Fort Pond, near the northwestern part of the tribal lands.

Estimated hydraulic-conductivity values derived from the results of specific-capacity tests that were completed at nine observation wells during March 2015 were used to calculate average linear velocity. Average linear velocity along conceptualized flow-path segments of the upper glacial aquifer located beneath the tribal lands was estimated using an assumed effective porosity value, and hydraulic-conductivity and hydraulic-head values that were interpolated from measured values. Groundwater travel times were estimated by dividing the length of the flow-path segment by the average linear velocity along the flow-path segment. Total estimated groundwater travel time along a conceptualized flow path, beginning near Sunrise Highway and terminating at Shinnecock Bay, is approximately 45 years using a porosity value of 30 percent.

A surficial-silty unit was identified from approximately 0 to 10 ft below land surface at multiple locations beneath the tribal lands. The lithology of the surficial unit was verified by interpreted gamma log results obtained from select wells, and auger-rig drill cuttings from an observation well located near the geographic center of the tribal lands. The altitude of the unit varies with topography and was delineated along a cross section line that trends north-south along the approximate centerline (spine) of the tribal lands. The altitude of the hydrogeologic contact between the upper glacial and the Magothy aquifers generally decreases from northwest to southeast, occurs at a depth ranging from about 150 to 200 ft beneath the tribal lands, and was identified at two locations north of the tribal lands, near Sunrise Highway and Sebonac Road. Results of electrical geophysical surveys indicate that the depth to the freshwater/saltwater interface decreases from north to south with decreasing water level altitude, and the Magothy and upper glacial aquifers contain saltwater at varying depths along the north-south trending section. Results of the surveys also indicate that the Magothy aquifer beneath the tribal lands contains brackish and salty water and is not considered a source of potable water supply. In general, depth to the interface increases with increasing geographic distance from the coastline. Low water table altitudes can result in increased saltwater encroachment into the surficial aquifer beneath the tribal lands. This upward movement and shallow depth of the freshwater/saltwater interface can jeopardize water quality in wells that supply water for domestic use.

Suggested Citation

Noll, M.L., Rivera, S.L., and Busciolano, Ronald, 2016, Hydrologic assessment of the shallow groundwater flow system beneath the Shinnecock Nation tribal lands, Suffolk County, New York: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2016–5110, 44 p.,

ISSN: 2328-0328 (online)

ISSN: 2328-031X (print)

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgments
  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Methods of Investigation
  • Hydrologic Assessment of the Shallow Groundwater Flow System
  • Conclusions
  • Summary
  • References Cited
  • Appendix 1. Water Level Altitude and Precipitation Measured at Selected Wells at the Shinnecock Nation Tribal Lands, Shinnecock, New York
  • Appendix 2. Water Level Altitude and Tide Stage at the Shinnecock Nation Tribal Lands, Shinnecock, New York
  • Appendix 3. Geophysical Log Collected at the Shinnecock Nation Tribal Lands,  Shinnecock, New York

Additional publication details

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USGS Numbered Series
Hydrologic assessment of the shallow groundwater flow system beneath the Shinnecock Nation tribal lands, Suffolk County, New York
Series title:
Scientific Investigations Report
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U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Reston, VA
Contributing office(s):
New York Water Science Center
Report: ix, 44 p.
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United States
New York
Suffolk County
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