Surface water and ground water from unconfined aquifers are the primary sources of drinking water for much of the population, about 391,000, in the Metedeconk River, Toms River, and Kettle Creek watersheds in the New Jersey Coastal Plain. The quality of these sources of drinking water is a concern because they are vulnerable to contamination. Indications of the occurrence, distribution, and likely sources and transport mechanisms of certain contaminants were obtained from 48 selected reports and 2 selected data sets on water quality in or near the watersheds (1980-2001). These indications are described and briefly summarized in this report.
The findings of studies on ground-water quality indicate that shallow ground water within the study area generally meets primary drinking-water standards, with notable exceptions. Volatile organic compounds, mercury, arsenic, radionuclides, nitrate, and coliform bacteria have been detected in shallow ground water in some areas at levels that exceed Federal and State drinking-water standards. For example, results of analyses of untreated samples collected from more than 13,000 private wells during 1983-99 indicated that concentrations of volatile organic compounds in samples from 7.3 percent of the wells exceeded at least 1 of 11 drinking-water standards, according to records maintained by the Ocean County Health Department. In cases of exceedances, however, water treatment, well replacement, and (or) retesting assured that applicable drinking-water standards were being met at the tap. Reported concentrations of the pesticide chlordane in some areas exceeded the drinking-water standard; few data are available on the occurrence of other pesticides. Studies of nearby areas, however, indicate that pesticide concentrations generally could be expected to be below drinking-water standards. The combination of low pH and low dissolved solids in many areas results in shallow ground water that is highly corrosive and, if untreated, able to leach trace elements and release asbestos fibers from plumbing materials.
Reported concentrations of nitrate, volatile organic compounds, trace elements, and pesticides in samples from the monitored mainstem and tributary streams within the study area generally are below maximum contaminant levels for drinking water or below detection limits. Results of studies in other areas indicate that pesticide concentrations in surface water could be considerably higher during high flows soon after the application of pesticides to crops than during low flows. Fecal coliform bacteria counts in streams vary considerably. Concentrations or counts of these classes of surface-water-quality constituents likely are functions of the intensity and type of upstream development. Results of limited monitoring for radionuclide concentrations reported by the Brick Township Municipal Utilities Authority of the Metedeconk River indicate that radionuclide concentrations or activities do not exceed maximum contaminant levels for drinking water. As a consequence of organic matter in surface water, the formati ultraviolet absorbance in samples from the Metedeconk River and the Toms River exceeded the alternative compliance criteria for source water (2.0 milligrams per liter for total organic carbon and 0.02 absorbance units-liters per milligram-centimeter for specific ultraviolet absorbance) with respect to treatment requirements for preventing elevated concentrations of disinfection by-products in treated water.
Water-quality and treatment issues associated with use of ground and surface water for potable supply in the study area are related to human activities and naturally occurring factors. Additional monitoring and analysis of ground and surface water would be needed to determine conclusively the occurrence and distribution of some contaminants and the relative importance of various potential contaminant sources, transport and attenuation mechanisms, and transport pathways.