National water summary 1986; Hydrologic events and ground-water quality

Water Supply Paper 2325

Compiled by:
David W. Moody, Jerry E. Carr, Edith B. Chase, and Richard W. Paulson



Ground water is one of the most important natural resources of the United States and degradation of its quality could have a major effect on the welfare of the Nation. Currently (1985), ground water is the source of drinking water for 53 percent of the Nation's population and for more than 97 percent of its rural population. It is the source of about 40 percent of the Nation's public water supply, 33 percent of water for irrigation, and 17 percent of freshwater for selfsupplied industries. Ground water also is the source of about 40 percent of the average annual streamflow in the United States, although during long periods of little or no precipitation, ground-water discharges provide nearly all of the base streamflow. This hydraulic connection between aquifers and streams implies that if a persistent pollutant gets into an aquifer, it eventually could discharge into a stream. Information presented in the 1986 National Water Summary clearly shows that the United States has very large amounts of potable ground water available for use. Although naturally occurring constituents, such as nitrate, and human-induced substances, such as synthetic organic chemicals, frequently are detected in ground water, their concentrations usually do not exceed existing Federal or State standards or guidelines for maximum concentrations in drinking water. Troublesome contamination of ground water falls into two basic categories related to the source or sources of the contamination. Locally, high concentrations of a variety of toxic metals, organic chemicals, and petroleum products have been detected in ground water associated with point sources such as wastedisposal sites, storage-tank leaks, and hazardous chemical spills. These types of local problems commonly occur in densely populated urban areas and industrialized areas. Larger, multicounty areas also have been identified where contamination frequently is found in shallow wells. These areas generally are associated with broad-scale, or nonpoint, sources of contamination such as agricultural activities or highdensity domestic waste disposal (septic systems) in urban centers. At present, only a very small percentage of the total volume of potable ground water in the United States is contaminated from both point and nonpoint sources; however, available data, especially data about the occurrence of synthetic organic and toxic substances, generally are inadequate to determine the full extent of ground-water contamination in the Nation's aquifers or to define trends in groundwater quality. Most information about the occurrence of these substances has come from the study of individual sites or areas where contamination had already been detected or suspected. Management and protection of ground water present a major challenge to the Nation. Current and projected costs of detection and cleanup of existing ground-water contamination are staggering and, even so, complete removal of pollutants from ground water in the vicinity of some waste sites might not be technically feasible. At all levels of government, the task of protecting the resource for its most beneficial uses is difficult and controversial. Despite increasing awareness that some of the Nation's ground water is contaminated with a variety of toxic metals, synthetic organic chemicals, radionuclides, pesticides, and other contaminants that might present a long-term risk to human health, public policy towards ground-water protection is still in the formative stages. Despite increasing efforts devoted to ground-water protection by State and Federal regulatory and resource-management agencies, the extent of ground-water contamination is likely to appear to increase over the next few years because more agencies will be searching for evidence of contamination, and they will be using increasingly sensitive analytical procedures. Increased technology and expanded monitoring activities probably will detect the effects of past contamination and land uses on water quality. The significant time lag between a waterquality change in one part of an aquifer system and the effects of that change at a downgradient site, such as a well, results from the generally slow movement of ground water. This lag between cause and observed effect needs to be considered in evaluating the effectiveness of current and future ground-water policies and remedial measures. Conclusive answers to questions about the location, extent, and severity of ground-water contamination, and about trends in ground-water quality, must await further collection and analysis of data from the Nation's aquifers. Generalizations, however, can be made, and the 1986 National Water Summary, which describes the natural quality of ground-water resources in each State and the major contamination problems that have been identified as of 1986, provides a national perspective of the ground-water-quality situation. The 1986 National Water Summary follows the format of previous volumes. It contains three parts, and the contents of each of these parts are highlighted below.

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Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
National water summary 1986; Hydrologic events and ground-water quality
Series title:
Water Supply Paper
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Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Contributing office(s):
Texas Water Science Center, Minnesota Water Science Center, Wisconsin Water Science Center, Iowa Water Science Center
ix, 560 p.
United States
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