Geology and ground-water resources of Washington, D.C., and vicinity

Water Supply Paper 1776



The area of this report includes 436 square miles centered about the District of Columbia. The area contains parts of two distinctly different physiographic provinces-the Piedmont and the Coastal Plain. The Fall Line, which separates the Piedmont province on the west from the Coastal Plain Province on the east, bisects the area diagonally from northeast to southwest. Northwest of the Fall Line, deeply weathered igneous and metamorphic rocks are exposed ; to the southeast, these rocks are covered by Coastal Plain sediments; the nonconformity between crystalline rock and sediments dips southeast at an average rate of about 125 feet per mile. The rocks of the Piedmont include: (1) schist, phyllite, and quartzite of the Wissahickon Formation; (2) altered mafic rocks such as greenstone and serpentine; (3) the Laurel Gneiss of Chapman, 1942, and the Sykesville Formation of Jonas, 1928--both probably derived from the Wissahickon ; and (4) later granitic intrusive rocks. Lying upon this basement of hard rocks east of the Fall Line are the generally unconsolidated sediments of the Coastal Plain, which include gravel, sand, and clay, ranging in age from Cretaceous to Recent. These sediments measure only a few inches at their western extremity but thicken to 1,800 feet at the southeast corner of the mapped area. Owing to the great diversity in the geology of the two provinces, the waterbearing characteristics of the rocks also vary greatly. In the Piedmont, ground water occurs under unconfined or water-table conditions in openings and fissures in the hard rocks or in the residual weathered blanket that overlies them. In the Coastal Plain, the shallow wells tap unconfined water, but beneath the upper clay layers the water is contained in the sand and gravel under artesian pressure and must be recovered by deep drilled wells. Wells are of three types--drilled, bored, and dug. Drilled wells furnish a permanent water supply and are the least subject to pollution when properly constructed. Bored or dug wells allow greater storage capacity and are satisfactory for domestic supplies in some locations, but they are polluted easily. If not properly constructed or of sufficient depth, they may fail in dry weather. Ground-water supplies for domestic use, 5 to 10 gpm (gallons per minute), are obtainable in most places. In the Piedmont, recorded yields in drilled wells range from 0.2 to 212 gpm. In the Coastal Plain, wells yield from 1 to 800 gpm. The quality of the ground water in the report area is generally satisfactory for domestic, industrial, and irrigation use. High iron content and corrosiveness are troublesome in places. The water is soft to moderately hard--2 to 175 ppm (parts per million). Water in the Piedmont province is. dominantly the calcium and bicarbonate type; in the Coastal Plain most water is of calcium-magnesium bicarbonate type. In the Piedmont, careful location of wells with respect to the geology (rock type and structure) and to topography usually results in higher yields and may mean the difference between success and failure. In the Coastal Plain, drilled artesian wells are not affected by topography, but the yield obtained depends upon the penetration of a water-bearing sand or gravel bed at sufficient depth. The early settlers obtained water from the springs and streams, and later from dug wells. After Washington was established as the Capital in 1800, water was obtained from public and privately owned wells. Water was piped from some of the springs to government buildings and to private homes and business houses. In 1863 a diversion dam was completed in the Potomac above Great Falls and a conduit was built into the city to furnish a public water supply. This system with modifications has been in use ever since. A new diversion dam and pumping station at Little Falls was put into service in the summer of 1959. In 1961 the total pumpage from Coastal Plain aquifers in the report area was estimate

Additional publication details

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Geology and ground-water resources of Washington, D.C., and vicinity
Series title Water Supply Paper
Series number 1776
DOI 10.3133/wsp1776
Edition -
Year Published 1964
Language ENGLISH
Publisher U. S. Govt. Print. Off.,
Description vi, 97 p. :illus., maps (2 fold., 1 col., in pocket) diagrs., tables. ;24 cm.
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