Hydrogeology and water quality of sand and gravel aquifers in McHenry County, Illinois, 2009-14, and comparison to conditions in 1979

Scientific Investigations Report 2017-5112
Prepared in cooperation with McHenry County, Illinois



Baseline conditions for the sand and gravel aquifers (groundwater) in McHenry County, Illinois, were assessed using data from a countywide network of 44 monitoring wells collecting continuous water-level data from 2009–14. In 2010, water-quality data were collected from 41 of the monitoring wells, along with five additional monitoring wells available from the U.S. Geological Survey National Water Quality Assessment Program. Periodic water-quality data were collected from 2010–14 from selected monitoring wells. The continuous water-level data were used to identify the natural and anthropogenic factors that influenced the water levels at each well. The water-level responses to natural influences such as precipitation, seasonal and annual variations, barometric pressure, and geology, and to anthropogenic influences such as pumping were used to determine (1) likely hydrogeologic setting (degree of aquifer confinement and interconnections) that, in part, are related to lithostratigraphy; and (2) areas of recharge and discharge related to vertical flow directions. Water-level trends generally were determined from the 6 years of data collection (2009–14) to infer effects of weather variability (drought) on recharge.

Precipitation adds an estimated 2.4 inches per year of recharge to the aquifer. Some of this recharge is subsequently discharged to streams and some is discharged to supply wells. A few areas in the eastern half of the county had higher average recharge rates, indicating a need for adequate protection of these recharge areas. Downward vertical flow gradients in upland areas indicate that recharge to the confined aquifer units occurs near upland areas. Upward vertical flow gradients in lowland areas indicate discharge at locations of surface water and groundwater interaction (wetlands, ponds, and streams).

Monitoring wells were sampled for major and minor ions, metals, and nutrients and a subset of wells was sampled for trace elements, dissolved gases, pesticides, and volatile organic compounds. The results were compared to healthbased and aesthetically based standards, which include the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Maximum Contaminant Level (EPA MCL), and EPA Secondary Maximum Contaminant Levels (SMCL), as well as EPA Health-based Standards Drinking Water Advisories. Health‑based standards were exceeded for arsenic in 22 percent, sodium in 20 percent, and nitrates in 2 percent of the monitoring wells sampled. Aesthetically based standards were exceeded for total dissolved solids in 33 percent, chloride in 11 percent, iron in 85 percent, and manganese in 30 percent of the wells sampled. Many of these same constituents, such as arsenic, iron, and manganese, are naturally occurring but become elevated in areas that have anoxic, mixed, and suboxic conditions. Some areas of potential vulnerability to anthropogenic-sourced constituents in the sand and gravel aquifers were evidenced by trace amounts of volatile organic compounds and pesticides detected in water-quality samples from shallow wells (total depth less of than 46 feet below land surface) near urban settings, and by the detection of elevated major ions (chloride, sodium, magnesium, and calcium) associated, in part, with road-salt applications. Source analysis for chloride indicates mixtures of road salt, water softeners, and sewage.

Continuously measured specific conductance values were used as a surrogate for continuously measured chloride concentrations in the groundwater. The estimated chloride concentrations generally were highest in spring and lowest in summer, and occasionally peak during spring melt. Overall, the range of concentrations varied depending on the local thickness and hydraulic conductivity of the aquifer.

Water levels and water quality from the countywide groundwater monitoring network were compared to water levels and water-quality results in 1979 from a previous U.S. Geological Survey study. Potentiometric surface maps show areas with inferred decreases of water levels near the southern and southeastern areas of McHenry County. Significant increases were noted for total dissolved solids and specific conductance. Chloride concentrations increased as much as 521 percent in three of six wells resampled in 2015 from the previous study.

Suggested Citation

Gahala, A.M., 2017, Hydrogeology and water quality of sand and gravel aquifers in McHenry County, Illinois, 2009-14, and comparison to conditions in 1979: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2017-5112, 91 p., https://doi.org/10.3133/sir20175112.

ISSN: 2328-0328 (online)

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Description of Study Area
  • Previous Investigation
  • Methods
  • Hydrogeology
  • Water Quality of Sand and Gravel Aquifers in McHenry County
  • Comparisons to Conditions in 1979
  • Summary and Conclusions
  • Acknowledgments
  • References Cited
  • Appendix A. Well Log Lithology of National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Monitoring Well 44N9E-20.7c
Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Hydrogeology and water quality of sand and gravel aquifers in McHenry County, Illinois, 2009-14, and comparison to conditions in 1979
Series title Scientific Investigations Report
Series number 2017-5112
DOI 10.3133/sir20175112
Year Published 2017
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Illinois Water Science Center
Description ix, 91 p.
Country United States
State Illinois
County McHenry County
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details