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Preliminary hydrogeologic assessment and study plan for a regional ground-water resource investigation of the Blue Ridge and Piedmont provinces of North Carolina

Water-Resources Investigations Report 2002-4105

Prepared in cooperation with the Groundwater Section of the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Division of Water Quality
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Abstract

Prolonged drought, allocation of surface-water flow, and increased demands on ground-water supplies resulting from population growth are focuses for the need to evaluate ground-water resources in the Blue Ridge and Piedmont Provinces of North Carolina. Urbanization and certain aspects of agricultural production also have caused increased concerns about protecting the quality of ground water in this region.

More than 75 percent of the State's population resides in the Blue Ridge and Piedmont Provinces in an area that covers 30,544 square miles and 65 counties. Between 1940 and 2000, the population in the Piedmont and Blue Ridge Provinces increased from 2.66 to 6.11 million; most of this increase occurred in the Piedmont. Of the total population, an estimated 1.97 million people, or 32.3 percent (based on the 1990 census), relied on ground water for a variety of uses, including commercial, industrial, and most importantly, potable supplies.

Ground water in the Blue Ridge and Piedmont traditionally has not been considered as a source for large supplies, primarily because of readily available and seemingly limitless surface-water supplies, and the perception that ground water in the Blue Ridge and Piedmont Provinces occurs in a complex, generally heterogeneous geologic environment. Some reluctance to use ground water for large supplies derives from the reputation of aquifers in these provinces for producing low yields to wells, and the few high-yield wells that are drilled seem to be scattered in areas distant from where they are needed. Because the aquifers in these provinces are shallow, they also are susceptible to contamination by activities on the land surface.

In response to these issues, the North Carolina Legislature supported the creation of a Resource Evaluation Program to ensure the long-term availability, sustainability, and quality of ground water in the State. As part of the Resource Evaluation Program, the North Carolina Division of Water Quality, Groundwater Section, in cooperation with the U.S. Geological Survey, initiated a multiyear study of ground water in the Blue Ridge and Piedmont Provinces. The study began in 1999.

Most of the study area is underlain by a complex, two-part, regolith-fractured crystalline rock aquifer system. Thickness of the regolith throughout the study area is highly variable and ranges from 0 to more than 150 feet. The regolith consists of an unconsolidated or semiconsolidated mixture of clay and fragmental material ranging in grain size from silt to boulders. Because porosities range from 35 to 55 percent, the regolith provides the bulk of the water storage within the Blue Ridge and Piedmont ground-water system. At the base of the regolith is the transition zone where saprolite grades into unweathered bedrock. The transition zone has been identified as a potential conduit for rapid ground-water flow. If this is the case, the transition zone also may serve as a conduit for rapid movement of contaminants to nearby wells or to streams with channels that cut into 1 U.S. Geological Survey, Raleigh, North Carolina. 2 North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Division of Water Quality, Groundwater Section. or through the transition zone. How rapidly a contaminant moves through the system largely may be a function of the characteristics of the transition zone. The transition zone is one of several topics identified during the literature review and data synthesis, for which there is a deficiency in data and understanding of the processes involved in the movement of ground water to surface water.

Because the Blue Ridge and Piedmont study area is so large, and the hydrogeology diverse, it is not feasible to study all of the area in detail. A more feasible approach is to select areas that are most representative of the land use, geology, and hydrology to obtain an understanding of the hydrologic processes in the selected areas, and transfer the knowledge from these local "type areas" to similar regional hydrogeologic areas.

For the purpose of this study, the term "type area" applies to a 10- to 100-square mile area within a hydrogeologic terrane where information is sufficient to develop and test a concept of ground-water flow by using analytical or numerical methods that can be validated by field measurements. Ideally, these type areas are selected to be representative of the flow system that is present wherever a particular hydrogeologic terrane is present.

This report consists of two basic parts. The first part describes the results of a comprehensive review and synthesis of information and literature that provides the basic background for the study. This includes current (2002) knowledge regarding general geology and the hydrogeologic framework of the fractured-rock aquifer system that underlies the Blue Ridge and Piedmont Provinces. In spite of the quantity of information identified during the literature review and the amount of past work that has been documented, there are still research needs to be met.

The second part of the report describes State ground-water issues and problems, available data, and data deficiencies. It also describes the design and implementation of efforts to characterize ground-water quality and to quantify factors that influence the movement and availability of ground water in the hydrogeologic terranes characterized by (1) massive or foliated crystalline rocks overlain by thick regolith and (2) massive or foliated crystalline rocks overlain by thin regolith.

As of September 2001, seven sites had been identified as potential study sites to be used to characterize the hydrogeology and water quality of ype areas considered representative of the larger terranes. Detailed geologic mapping, core drilling, well installation, and surface and borehole geophysical surveys are in progress at four of the sites.

Suggested Citation

Daniel, C.C., III, Dahlen, P.R., 2002, Preliminary hydrogeologic assessment and study plan for a regional ground-water resource investigation of the Blue Ridge and Piedmont provinces of North Carolina: U.S. Geological Survey Water-Resources Investigations Report 2002–4105, 60 p., https://pubs.er.usgs.gov/publication/wri024105.

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Abstract 
  • Introduction 
  • Hydrogeologic setting 
  • Hydrologic conditions in the study area
  • Hydrogeologic terranes
  • Ground-water quality
  • State ground-water issues and problems 
  • Study design 
  • Selected references

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Report
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Title:
Preliminary hydrogeologic assessment and study plan for a regional ground-water resource investigation of the Blue Ridge and Piedmont provinces of North Carolina
Series title:
Water-Resources Investigations Report
Series number:
2002-4105
Year Published:
2002
Language:
English
Publisher:
U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Reston, VA
Contributing office(s):
South Atlantic Water Science Center
Description:
60 p.
Country:
United States
State:
North Carolina