Queens County is a heavily populated borough of New York City, at the western end of Long Island, N. Y., in which large amounts of ground water are used, mostly for public supply. Ground water, pumped from local aquifers, by privately owned water-supply companies, supplied the water needs of about 750,000 of the nearly 2 million residents of the county in 1967; the balance was supplied by New York City from surface sources outside the county in upstate New York.
The county's aquifers consist of sand and gravel of Late Cretaceous and of Pleistocene ages, and the aquifers comprise a wedge-shaped ground-water reservoir lying on a southeastward-sloping floor of Precambrian(?) bedrock. Beds of clay and silt generally confine water in the deeper parts of the reservoir; water in the deeper aquifers ranges from poorly confined to well confined. Wisconsin-age glacial deposits in the uppermost part of the reservoir contain ground water under water-table conditions.
Ground water pumpage averaged about 60 mgd (million gallons per day) in Queens County from about 1900 to 1967. Much of the water was used in adjacent Kings County, another borough of New York City, prior to 1950. The large ground-water withdrawal has resulted in a wide-spread and still-growing cone of depression in the water table, reflecting a loss of about 61 billion gallons of fresh water from storage. Significant drawdown of the water table probably began with rapid urbanization of Queens County in the 1920's. The county has been extensively paved, and storm and sanitary sewers divert water, which formerly entered the ground, to tidewater north and south of the county. Natural recharge to the aquifers has been reduced to about one half of the preurban rate and is below the withdrawal rate. Ground-water levels have declined more than 40. feet from the earliest-known levels, in 1903, to 1967, and the water table is below sea level in much of the county.
The aquifers are being contaminated by the movement of salty ground water toward the deepest parts of the cone of depression in central Queens County. Contamination of ground water is probably also occurring from leaking sewers and from pollutants leaking downward from the land surface. Thermal pollution of the ground water has occurred locally where ground water pumped for cooling uses is returned, with elevated temperatures, to the source aquifer through recharge wells.
The quality of ground water in Queens County in 1967 was generally satisfactory for public-supply and most industrial uses. However, the rate and distribution of ground-water withdrawals in the county are leading to greater decline of the water table and to increasing contamination of the aquifers. No 'safe limit' on pumpage can be set for the county because limits on the effects of pumping have not been established. A safe limit, at the present stage of urbanization, could range from considerably less than the current average 60 mgd to considerably more over a wide-range of pumping effects and acceptable water quality. However, continued removal of fresh water from storage and deterioration of water quality reduces the value of the county's aquifers, not only for current supply, but also for additional supply to the county and other parts of New York City in times of drought or other emergency.