Cumberland Island is the southernmost and largest barrier island along the coast of Georgia. The island contains about 2,500 acres of freshwater wetlands that are located in a variety of physical settings, have a wide range of hydroperiods, and are influenced to varying degrees by surface and ground water, rainwater, and seawater. In 1999-2000, the U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the National Park Service, conducted a water-quality study of Cumberland Island National Seashore to document and interpret the quality of a representative subset of surface- and ground-water resources for management of the seashore's natural resources. As part of this study, historical ground-water, surface-water, and ecological studies conducted on Cumberland Island also were summarized.
Surface-water samples from six wetland areas located in the upland area of Cumberland Island were collected quarterly from April 1999 to March 2000 and analyzed for major ions, nutrients, trace elements, and field water-quality constituents including specific conductance, pH, temperature, dissolved oxygen, alkalinity, tannin and lignin, and turbidity. In addition, water temperature and specific conductance were recorded continuously from two wetland areas located near the mean high-tide mark on the Atlantic Ocean beaches from April 1999 to July 2000. Fish and invertebrate communities from six wetlands were sampled during April and December 1999. The microbial quality of the near-shore Atlantic Ocean was assessed in seawater samples collected for 5 consecutive days in April 1999 at five beaches near campgrounds where most recreational water contact occurs.
Ground-water samples were collected from the Upper Floridan aquifer in April 1999 and from the surficial aquifer in April 2000 at 11 permanent wells and 4 temporary wells (drive points), and were analyzed for major ions, nutrients, trace elements, and field water-quality constituents (conductivity, pH, temperature, dissolved oxygen, and alkalinity). Fecal-coliform bacteria concentrations were measured, but not detected, in samples collected from two domestic water-supply wells. During the 12-month period from April 1999 to March 2000 when water-quality and aquatic-community samples were collected, rainfall was 12.93 inches below the 30-year average rainfall.
Constituent concentrations were highly variable among the different wetlands during the study period. Rainfall and tidal surges associated with tropical storms and hurricanes substantially influenced water quantity and quality, particularly in wetland areas directly influenced by tidal surges. Although surface waters on Cumberland Island are not used as sources of drinking water, exceedances of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency primary and secondary standards for drinking water were noted for comparative purposes. A nitrate concentration of 12 milligrams per liter in one sample from Whitney outflow was the only exceedance of a maximum contaminant level. Secondary standards were exceeded in 26 surface-water samples for the following constituents: pH (10 exceedances), chloride (8), sulfate (5), total dissolved solids (4), iron (2), fluoride (1), and manganese (1). The total-dissolved-solids concentrations and the relative abundance of major ions in surface-water samples collected from wetlands on Cumberland Island provide some insight into potential sources of water and influences on water quality. Major-ion chemistries of water samples from Whitney Lake, Willow Pond, and South End Pond 3 were sodium-chloride dominated, indicating direct influence from rainwater, salt aerosol, or inundation of marine waters. The remaining wetlands sampled had low total-dissolved-solids concentrations and mixed major-ion chemistries--North Cut Pond 2A was magnesium-sodium-chloride-sulfate dominated and Lake Retta and the two beach outflows were sodium-calcium-bicarbonate-chloride dominated. The higher percent calcium and bicarbonate in some wetlands sugg