A Science Plan for a Comprehensive Assessment of Water Supply in the Region Underlain by Fractured Rock in Maryland
By Brandon J. Fleming, Patrick A. Hammond, Scott A. Stranko, Mark T. Duigon, and Saeid Kasraei
The fractured rock region of Maryland, which includes land areas north and west of the Interstate 95 corridor, is the source of water supply for approximately 4.4 million Marylanders, or approximately 76 percent of the State’s population. Whereas hundreds of thousands of residents rely on wells (both domestic and community), millions rely on surface-water sources. In this region, land use, geology, topography, water withdrawals, impoundments, and other factors affect water-flow characteristics. The unconfined groundwater systems are closely interconnected with rivers and streams, and are affected by seasonal and climatic variations. During droughts, groundwater levels drop, thereby decreasing well yields, and in some cases, wells have gone dry. Low ground-water levels contribute to reduced streamflows, which in turn, can lead to reduced habitat for aquatic life. Increased demand, over-allocation, population growth, and climate change can affect the future sustainability of water supplies in the region of Maryland underlain by fractured rock.
In response to recommendations of the 2008 Advisory Committee on the Management and Protection of the State’s Water Resources report, the Maryland Department of the Environment’s Water Supply Program, the Maryland Geological Survey, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Monitoring and Non-Tidal Assessment (MANTA) Division, and the U.S. Geological Survey have developed a science plan for a comprehensive assessment that will provide new scientific information, new data analysis, and new tools for the State to better manage water resources in the fractured rock region of Maryland. The science plan lays out five goals for the comprehensive assessment: (1) develop tools for the improved management and investigation of groundwater and surface-water resources; (2) characterize factors affecting reliable yields of individual groundwater and surface-water supplies; (3) investigate impacts on nearby water withdrawal users caused by groundwater and surface-water withdrawals; (4) assess the role of streamflow and water withdrawals on the ecological integrity of streams; and (5) improve understanding of the distribution of water-quality conditions in fractured rock aquifers. To accomplish these goals, accurate data collection, review, and analysis are needed, including the study of “Research Watersheds” that can provide detailed information about the potential effects that climate change and water withdrawals may have on groundwater, streamflow, and aquatic life.
The assessment planning started in 2009 and is being conducted with close interagency coordination. A Fractured Rock Aquifer Information System is currently (2012) undergoing initial development. Other major tasks that will be performed include the development of work plans for each science goal, the estimation of daily streamflow at ungaged streams, and the design and implementation of Research Watersheds. Finally, scenarios will be modeled to evaluate current water allocation permitting methodologies, investigate effects on nearby water withdrawal users caused by groundwater and surface-water withdrawals, and assess the potential impacts of climate change on water resources.
Desktop and Web-based tools will be developed in order to meet the diverse research needs of the assessment. These tools, including the Fractured Rock Aquifer Information System will be continuously improved during the assessment to store relevant groundwater and surface-water data in spatially referenced databases, estimate streamflows, locate higher-yielding wells, estimate the impacts of withdrawals on nearby users, and assess the cumulative impacts of withdrawals on the aquatic resource. Tools will be developed to serve the needs of many audiences, including water resource managers, water suppliers, planners, policymakers, and other scientific investigators.