Updating Data Inputs, Assessing Trends, and Evaluating a Method To Estimate Probable High Groundwater Levels in Selected Areas of Massachusetts

Scientific Investigations Report 2020-5036
Prepared in cooperation with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection
By:  and 



A method to estimate the probable high groundwater level in Massachusetts, excluding Cape Cod and the islands, was developed in 1981. The method uses a groundwater measurement from a test site, groundwater measurements from an index well, and a distribution of high groundwater levels from wells in similar geologic and topographic settings. The U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, conducted an update to the Frimpter method for estimating the probable high groundwater levels in Massachusetts. The study evaluated the potential changes to the method resulting from four decades of additional groundwater-level data and the expansion of the network of wells for monitoring groundwater levels. The differences and potential benefits of daily, as opposed to monthly, measurements in the application of the method were examined because of the increased availability of high-frequency (subdaily) groundwater-level data. The study also considered long-term trends in groundwater levels that may alter the accuracy of the method. Finally, the accuracy of the estimated high groundwater levels was evaluated, and improved implementation guidance was prepared.

For this study, groundwater levels in 153 wells in Massachusetts and surrounding States with records with lengths of 16 to 78 years were analyzed. The highest recorded groundwater levels ranged from 1.2 feet (ft) above land surface (flooded conditions) to 45.8 ft below land surface, with a median of 4.6 ft below land surface. The maximum annual groundwater-level range was 1.4 to 17.9 ft, with a median of 5.5 ft.

The within-month variation, maximum annual groundwater-level range, and highest recorded groundwater level were computed using daily mean groundwater-level values from 28 wells with continuous records. The use of daily data resulted in larger maximum annual groundwater-level ranges (0.02 to 2.94 ft larger, with a median of 0.58 ft larger) and shallower highest-recorded groundwater levels (0.0 to 1.60 ft shallower, with a median of 0.18 ft shallower) than computations based on monthly measurements in the same wells.

Statistical tests showed moderate to strong evidence of trends in measurements of both high and low groundwater levels within most of the periods during which water levels were analyzed. High groundwater levels rose beneath the land surface at most sites during four of the six periods used for analysis (1966–2015, 1986–2015, 1991–2010, and 1981–2010). Low groundwater levels also increased at many sites during most of the periods evaluated, but this trend was less widespread than the similar trends in high groundwater levels, and the trend was to deeper low groundwater levels at more sites than the trend to deeper high groundwater levels. There was no clear trend in annual groundwater-level ranges at most sites during the six periods analyzed.

In general, the Frimpter method predicted shallower (higher) high groundwater levels than were observed but correctly classified sites according to their suitabilities for unmounded septic systems. The mean error of the predictions (difference between the estimated and observed groundwater levels) ranged from −3.23 ft to −1.40 ft for various approaches to estimating the groundwater-level range and selecting an index well. The method correctly classified 83 to 86 percent of monitoring-well sites according to their suitability for an unmounded septic system for many approaches to estimating the annual groundwater-level range and selecting an index well. The approach selected for estimating the annual groundwater-level range and selecting an index well will depend upon the importance of an accurate estimate of the high groundwater level as compared to the importance of an estimated high groundwater level that is less likely to be exceeded.

Suggested Citation

Barclay, J.R., and Mullaney, J.R., 2020, Updating data inputs, assessing trends, and evaluating a method to estimate probable high groundwater levels in selected areas of Massachusetts: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2020–5036, 45 p., https://doi.org/10.3133/sir20205036.

ISSN: 2328-0328 (online)

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgments
  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Background
  • Well Network
  • Updated Water-Level Statistics
  • Daily Versus Monthly Data
  • Long-Term Trends in Water Levels
  • Evaluating and Implementing the Method
  • Summary
  • Selected References
  • Appendix 1. Groundwater Observation Wells in Massachusetts and Surrounding States
  • Appendix 2. Description of Data Used in the Predictive Equation To Select the Best Index Well

Additional publication details

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Updating data inputs, assessing trends, and evaluating a method to estimate probable high groundwater levels in selected areas of Massachusetts
Series title Scientific Investigations Report
Series number 2020-5036
DOI 10.3133/sir20205036
Year Published 2020
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) New England Water Science Center
Description Report: viii, 45 p.; Data Release
Country United States
State Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Additional Online Files (Y/N) Y
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