Vulnerability of ground water to contamination, northern Bexar County, Texas

Water-Resources Investigations Report 2003-4072

In cooperation with the San Antonio Water System



The Trinity aquifer, composed of Lower Cretaceous carbonate rocks, largely controls the ground-water hydrology in the study area of northern Bexar County, Texas. Discharge from the Trinity aquifer recharges the downgradient, hydraulically connected Edwards aquifer one of the most permeable and productive aquifers in the Nation and the sole source of water for more than a million people in south-central Texas. The unconfined, karstic outcrop of the Edwards aquifer makes it particularly vulnerable to contamination resulting from urbanization that is spreading rapidly northward across an "environmentally sensitive" recharge zone of the Edwards aquifer and its upgradient "catchment area," composed mostly of the less permeable Trinity aquifer.

A better understanding of the Trinity aquifer is needed to evaluate water-management decisions affecting the quality of water in both the Trinity and Edwards aquifers. A study was made, therefore, in cooperation with the San Antonio Water System to assess northern Bexar County's vulnerability to ground-water contamination. The vulnerability of ground water to contamination in this area varies with the effects of five categories of natural features (hydrogeologic units, faults, caves and (or) sinkholes, slopes, and soils) that occur on the outcrop and in the shallow subcrop of the Glen Rose Limestone.

Where faults affect the rates of recharge or discharge or the patterns of ground-water flow in the Glen Rose Limestone, they likewise affect the risk of water-quality degradation. Caves and sinkholes generally increase the vulnerability of ground water to contamination, especially where their occurrences are concentrated. The slope of land surface can affect the vulnerability of ground water by controlling where and how long a potential contaminant remains on the surface. Disregarding the exception of steep slopes which are assumed to have no soil cover the greater the slope, the less the risk of ground-water contamination. Because most soils in the study area are uniformly thin, they have only minimal effect on the vulnerability of ground water to contamination.

The results of hydrogeologic mapping during the present study divide the outcrop of the Glen Rose Limestone into five mappable intervals, labeled (youngest to oldest) A through E. Of these intervals, only the middle (C) and the lowermost (E) generally provide appreciable permeability.

The vulnerability assessment provided herein was determined by combining the presumed effects of selected natural features (with individual vulnerability ratings ranging from 0 through 35) using a grid-based, multilayer system of digital datasets and geographic information system analysis. The resulting vulnerability map comprises composite vulnerability ratings that range from 26 through 104. The relatively less vulnerable areas those containing no faults, sinkholes, or caves occupy about 92 percent of the study area. The most vulnerable areas are those containing both a fault and one or more caves. The distribution of the most vulnerable areas which trend from southwest to northeast, roughly parallel to the Balcones fault zone occur mainly where faults intersect caves.

Study Area

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Vulnerability of ground water to contamination, northern Bexar County, Texas
Series title:
Water-Resources Investigations Report
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Contributing office(s):
Texas Water Science Center
iii, 17 p.
United States
Other Geospatial:
Bexar County