Hydrogeologic framework and hydrologic conditions of the Piney Point aquifer in Virginia

Scientific Investigations Report 2017-5041
Prepared in cooperation with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality



The Piney Point aquifer in Virginia is newly described and delineated as being composed of six geologic units, in a study conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey in cooperation with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (VA DEQ). The eastward-dipping geologic units include, in stratigraphically ascending order, the

  • sand of the Nanjemoy Formation Woodstock Member,
  • interbedded limestone and sand of the Piney Point Formation,
  • silty and clayey sand of the Gosport Formation equivalent sediments,
  • silty sand of the Oligocene-age sediments,
  • silty fine-grained sand of the Old Church Formation, and
  • silty sand of the Calvert Formation, Newport News unit and basal Plum Point Member.

Identification of geologic units is based on typical sediment lithologies of geologic formations. Fine-grained sediments that compose confining units positioned immediately above and below the Piney Point aquifer are also described.

The Piney Point aquifer is one of several confined aquifers within the Virginia Coastal Plain and includes a highly porous and solution-channeled indurated limestone within the Piney Point Formation from which withdrawals are made. The limestone is relatively continuous laterally across central parts of the Northern Neck, Middle Peninsula, and York-James Peninsula. Other geologic units are of variable extent. The configurations of most of the geologic units are further affected by newly identified faults that are aligned radially from the Chesapeake Bay impact crater and create constrictions or barriers to groundwater flow. Some geologic units are also truncated beneath the lower Rappahannock River by a resurge channel associated with the impact crater.

Groundwater withdrawals from the Piney Point aquifer increased from approximately 1 million gallons per day (Mgal/d) during 1900 to 7.35 Mgal/d during 2004. As a result, a water-level cone of depression in James City and northern York Counties was estimated to be as low as 70 feet (ft) below the National Geodetic Vertical Datum of 1929 (NGVD 29) by 2005. Withdrawals decreased to 5.01 Mgal/d by 2009 as withdrawals were shifted toward other sources, and by 2015 water levels had recovered to approximately 50 ft below NGVD 29.

The mean estimated transmissivity of the Piney Point aquifer in York and James City Counties is 16,300 feet squared per day (ft2/d), but farther north it is only 925 ft2/d. The mean well specific capacity in York and James City Counties is 11.4 gallons per minute per foot (gal/min/ft). Farther north in Virginia, mean specific capacity is only 2.26 gal/min/ft, and in Maryland it is 0.99 gal/min/ft. The northward decrease in specific capacity probably reflects the northward decrease in transmissivity, which results from poor development of the solution-channeled limestone.

An aquifer test in northern York County induced vertical leakage to the solution-channeled limestone from overlying silty sand and a change in response of the aquifer to pumping from a single layer to two layers. Transmissivity of the limestone of approximately 19,800 ft2/d was distinguished from the silty sand of approximately 2,500 ft2/d.

Most of the water in the Piney Point aquifer is slightly alkaline with moderate concentrations primarily of sodium and bicarbonate that are slightly undersaturated with respect to calcite. Iron concentrations are generally less than 0.3 milligrams per liter (mg/L). Mixing of freshwater with seawater has elevated chloride concentrations to the southeast to as much as 7,120 mg/L.

Information on the Piney Point aquifer can benefit water-resource management in siting production wells, predicting likely well yield, and anticipating water-level response to withdrawals. Models that vertically discretize individual geologic units can potentially be used to evaluate groundwater flow in greater detail by representing lateral flow and vertical leakage among the geologic units.

Because groundwater withdrawals are made primarily from the limestone and sand of the Piney Point Formation, the VA DEQ has considered regarding the limestone and sand singly as a regulated aquifer apart from the other geologic units. Under current policy in Virginia, if only the limestone and sand were regarded as a regulated aquifer, a greater amount of drawdown would be allowed than is allowed for the Piney Point aquifer consisting of six geologic units. Some production wells intercept multiple geologic units, and the units can undergo water-level decline and vertical leakage induced by pumping from the limestone and sand. Whether the other geologic units are to be regarded as regulated aquifers is an additional consideration for the VA DEQ.

Suggested Citation

McFarland, E.R., 2017, Hydrogeologic framework and hydrologic conditions of the Piney Point aquifer in Virginia: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2017–5041, 63 p., 2 pl., and CD-ROM, https://doi.org/10.3133/sir20175041.

ISSN: 2328-0328 (online)

ISSN: 2328-031X (print)

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgments
  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Hydrogeologic Framework of the Piney Point Aquifer in Virginia
  • Hydrologic Conditions of the Piney Point Aquifer in Virginia
  • Summary and Conclusions
  • References Cited
  • Appendix 1. Borehole Geologic-Unit Top-Surface Altitudes, Piney Point Aquifer, Virginia
  • Appendix 2. Aquifer-Component Test Data, Piney Point Aquifer, Virginia 
Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Hydrogeologic framework and hydrologic conditions of the Piney Point aquifer in Virginia
Series title Scientific Investigations Report
Series number 2017-5041
DOI 10.3133/sir20175041
Year Published 2017
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Virginia Water Science Center
Description Report: vii, 62 p.; 2 Plates: 24 x 36 inches and 36 x 24 inches; Appendixes 1-2; Data Release; Read Me
Country United States
State Virginia
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) Y
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details