Ground-water age, flow, and quality near a landfill, and changes in ground-water conditions from 1976 to 1996 in the Swinomish Indian Reservation, northwestern Washington

Water-Resources Investigations Report 98-4014

Prepared in cooperation with Swinomish Indian Tribal Community



This report describes the results of two related studies: a study of ground-water age, flow, and quality near a landfill in the south-central part of the Swinomish Indian Reservation; and a study of changes in ground-water conditions for the entire reservation from 1976 to 1996. The Swinomish Indian Reservation is a 17-square-mile part of Fidalgo Island in northwestern Washington. The groundwater flow system in the reservation is probably independent of other flow systems in the area because it is almost completely surrounded by salt water.

There has been increasing stress on the ground-water resources of the reservation because the population has almost tripled during the past 20 years, and 65 percent of the population obtain their domestic water supply from the local ground-water system. The Swinomish Tribe is concerned that increased pumping of ground water might have caused decreased ground-water discharge into streams, declines in ground-water levels, and seawater intrusion into the ground-water system. There is also concern that leachate from an inactive landfill containing mostly household and wood-processing wastes may be contaminating the ground water.

The study area is underlain by unconsolidated glacial and interglacial deposits of Quaternary age that range from about 300 to 900 feet thick. Five hydrogeologic units have been defined in the unconsolidated deposits. From top to bottom, the hydrogeologic units are a till confining bed, an outwash aquifer, a clay confining bed, a sea-level aquifer, and an undifferentiated unit.

The ground-water flow system of the reservation is similar to other island-type flow systems. Water enters the system through the water table as infiltration and percolation of precipitation (recharge), then the water flows downward and radially outward from the center of the island. At the outside edges of the system, ground water flows upward to discharge into the surrounding saltwater bodies. Average annual recharge is estimated to be about 3 inches, or 12 percent of the average annual precipitation.

Ground water in the outwash aquifer near the landfill is estimated to be between 15 and 43 years old. Some deeper ground waters and ground water near the discharge areas close to the shoreline are older than 43 years.

Analysis of water-quality data collected for this study and review of existing data indicate that material in the landfill has had no appreciable impact on the current quality of ground water outside of the landfill. The water quality of samples from seven wells near to and downgradient from the landfill appears to be similar to the ground-water quality throughout the entire study area. The high iron and manganese concentrations found in most of the samples from wells near the landfill are probably within the range of natural concentrations for the study area.

Ground-water pumping during the past 20 years has not caused any large changes in ground-water discharge to streams, ground-water levels, or seawater intrusion into the ground-water system. Ground-water discharge into Snee-oosh Creek and Munks Creek had similar magnitudes in the summers of 1976 and 1996; flows in both creeks during those summers ranged from 0.07 t 0.15 cubic feet per second. Ground-water levels changed minimally between 1976 and 1996. The average water-level change for 20 wells with more than 10 years between measurements was -0.7 feet and the two largest waterlevel declines were 6 and 9 feet. No appreciable seawater intrusion was found in the ground water in 1996, and there was no significant increase in the extent of seawater intrusion from 1976 to 1996. Median chloride concentrations of water samples collected from wells were 22 milligrams per liter in 1976 and 18 milligrams per liter in 1996.

Study Area

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Ground-water age, flow, and quality near a landfill, and changes in ground-water conditions from 1976 to 1996 in the Swinomish Indian Reservation, northwestern Washington
Series title:
Water-Resources Investigations Report
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Tacoma, WA
v, 58 p.
Time Range Start:
Time Range End:
United States
Other Geospatial:
Fidalgo Island;Swinomish Indian Reservation