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Investigating Groundwater Systems on Regional and National Scales (2000)

Chapter:Appendix A: U.S. Geological Survey Programs That Support Ground-Water Resources Studies

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Suggested Citation:"Appendix A: U.S. Geological Survey Programs That Support Ground-Water Resources Studies." National Research Council. 2000. Investigating Groundwater Systems on Regional and National Scales. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9961.
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Page133
Suggested Citation:"Appendix A: U.S. Geological Survey Programs That Support Ground-Water Resources Studies." National Research Council. 2000. Investigating Groundwater Systems on Regional and National Scales. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9961.
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Page134
Suggested Citation:"Appendix A: U.S. Geological Survey Programs That Support Ground-Water Resources Studies." National Research Council. 2000. Investigating Groundwater Systems on Regional and National Scales. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9961.
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Page135
Suggested Citation:"Appendix A: U.S. Geological Survey Programs That Support Ground-Water Resources Studies." National Research Council. 2000. Investigating Groundwater Systems on Regional and National Scales. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9961.
×
Page136
Suggested Citation:"Appendix A: U.S. Geological Survey Programs That Support Ground-Water Resources Studies." National Research Council. 2000. Investigating Groundwater Systems on Regional and National Scales. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9961.
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Page137

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Appendix A U.S. Geological Survey Programs that Support Groundwater Resources Studies The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has had a central role in char- acterizing the nation's major aquifers and in developing methods to as- sess groundwater conditions and processes. Three important concerns about groundwater resources are (1) the sustainability of groundwater resources for long-term water-supply needs, (2) groundwater quality, and (3) environmental effects of groundwater development. Ensuring sus- tainable groundwater supplies for all needs requires an understanding of subsurface processes in aquifers as well as an understanding of the inter- action of groundwater with land and surface water resources. Because groundwater and surface water interact in complex ways, ecosystem studies need to incorporate the effects of this interaction. Thus, knowI- edge of many fields of study is needed to conduct comprehensive groundwater evaluations. These studies require work at regional and local scales to cover all inflation needs. Because of its Tong history of conducting groundwater studies as well as its expertise in hydrology, geology, biology, and mapping, the USGS is in a unique position to pro- vide comprehensive evaluations of groundwater systems. The USGS has responded to changing groundwater issues by de- signing and implementing programs that target those issues. For exam- ple, the Regional Aquifer-System Analysis (RASA) Program began in response to concerns about groundwater supplies during the 1977 drought. Likewise, the National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program began in 1991 in response to concerns about the status and trends in the nation's water quality. These two programs represent USGS responses to a set of groundwater quantity and quality issues. 133

134 Appendix A Water resources needs for ecosystems have also emerged as a new set of concerns that require understanding of both the amount and quality of water needed to sustain life in wetland, stream, and lake environments. Although USGS programs are targeted to fairly specific issues, they in- evitably yield data and insights that contribute to the success of pro- grams designed for other issues. Ground-Water Resources Program The Ground-Water Resources Program (GWRP) evolved from the RASA Program. From 1978 to 1995, the RASA Program systematically evaluated 25 of the nation's most important groundwater systems. Most of the RASA studies calculated regional groundwater budgets for both pumping and prepumping conditions. During the 1970s and l980s, pumpage from 11 of the 25 regional aquifer systems provided from 40 percent to 50 percent of the groundwater withdrawn in the United States (Johnston, 1997~. Computer models were used to estimate the effects of pumping on water levels. In general, the RASA Program did not exam- ine many of the shallower or less-productive aquifers that are important to ecosystem studies and to many rural and small community water users as well as for sustaining flow in streams. in addition to about 1,100 published reports, the RASA Program published a National Ground- Water Atias that used RASA data and data from other agencies as a gen- eral source of information on groundwater resources (http://capp.water.- usgs . gov/gwa/index.htmI) . The RASA Program, which ended in 1995, evolved into the GWRP, a program that places more emphasis on a broader range of groundwater issues. Current GWRP work consists of four activities: 1. Middle Rio Grande Basin, New Mexico—Studies by the USGS in cooperation with the New Mexico Bureau of Mines and Mineral Re- sources and the city of Albuquerque have shown that groundwater is not as plentiful as once thought in the Middle Rio Grande basin. Multidivisional efforts to more completely understand this complex hy- drogeologic system will culminate in a groundwater-flow model of the area that may be used to help policy makers decide new courses of ac- tion for a number of complex groundwater issues. 2. Southwestern United States Surface water in the southwestern United States is generally fully appropriated, and considerable ground

Appendix A 135 water is pumped for irrigation and supply. New water supplies increas- ingly rely on conjunctive use of surface water and groundwater. Sensi- tive ecosystems also rely on groundwater, a situation that creates further competition for scarce water resources. To address these concerns, the GWRP began a study of the interaction of groundwater and surface wa- ter in the Southwest in October 1998. 3. Atlantic Coast Development of groundwater resources along the AtIantic coast has caused salt water to intrude many highly produc- tive aquifers. Related concerns exist about the effects of changes in groundwater discharge to coastal ecosystems. A project to review what is known about these freshwater-saltwater issues along the Atlantic coast was begun in October 1998. 4. National Aquifer Data Base Preliminary planning is underway for a digital database on principal aquifer systems as a follow-up to the National Ground-Water Atlas. The GWRP thus addresses a variety of information needs. As the program transitions from its exclusive focus on the 25 RASA aquifer systems to broader issues, the above activities can serve as prototypes for possible future activities of the Ground-Water Resources Program. It is the main USGS program for assessing issues related to groundwater resources at the regional scale. National Water-Quality Assessment Program The National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program began in 1991 to provide information about the status and trends in the quality of the nation's groundwater and surface water resources. The focus of the groundwater component of the NAWQA Program has been to deter- mine the effects of human activities on the quality of groundwater in agricultural and urban areas. The program does not evaluate issues such as salt-water intrusion or many of the complex issues associated with the interaction of groundwater with streams, lakes, wetlands, and other sur- face water bodies. GWRP studies use information from NAWQA stud- ies as well as provide information to them. For example, two of the prototype areas chosen for the National Aquifer Data Base are the High Plains and North Atlantic Coastal Plain aquifer systems. These aquifers are also included in NAWQA study units.

136 Appendix A National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program The National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program (NCGMP) was created as a partnership of USGS with the state geological surveys and universities to produce geologic maps and databases. About a third of the projects conducted by this program have cited groundwater issues as one of the principal reasons for mapping. Because there is a geologic component to nearly all groundwater studies, coordination between this program and the GWRP is an important element of groundwater efforts in the USGS. Since 1992, the NCGMP has produced geologic maps and databases as the framework for groundwater assessments of regional aq- uifers in the Southwest and the southeastern Coastal Plain. Federal-State Cooperative Water Program The Federal-State Cooperative Water (Coop) Program matches funds from state and local agencies to support data collection and inves- tigations that serve both federal interests and the needs of the state and local agencies. For over 100 years, this arrangement has been a valuable means of building a national database of information that contains water quality, water-use, surface water, and groundwater data to develop a more complete understanding of hydrologic conditions including groundwater conditions. The RASA and NAWQA Programs have de- pended greatly on previous work in the Coop Program as the starting point for many of their efforts. Close interaction with water resources officials at the state and local levels ensures continuing relevance of the groundwater studies to address the most pressing issues. Toxic Substances Hydrology Program The Toxic Substances Hydrology (Toxics) Program was established in 1982 to provide earth science information on the behavior of toxic substances in the hydrologic environment including groundwater. Most of the research activities take place at contaminated sites, usually at the local scale. A few studies, such as the Midwest pesticide study, are con- ducted at the regional scale. Hydraulic properties of aquifers and con- fining units at the local scale are important aspects of groundwater stud-

Appendix A 137 ies for the Toxics Program. These data are also needed for groundwater studies conducted by other USGS programs. National Research Program The National Research Program (NRP) conducts fundamental and applied research on hydrologic problems and develops techniques and methodologies for the USGS. Most research conducted by NRP scien- tists focuses on long-term investigations that integrate hydrologic, geo- Togic, chemical, climatic, and biological information related to water resources and environmental problems. The program is designed to en- courage a Tong-term interdisciplinary approach to solving hydrologic problems. The NRP makes a deliberate effort to anticipate research needs that will be pertinent to the broad hydrologic science issues of the future. Thus, activities of NRP scientists change through time, reflecting the emergence of promising new areas of inquiry and the demand for new tools and techniques to address water resources issues and prob- lems. The direct linkage of the program with other water resources pro- grams of the USGS ensures that the research remains relevant to current water resources needs. NRP scientists interact with all USGS programs in the Water Resources Division (WRD), many programs in other divi- sions, and researchers at universities nationwide. Through the programs highlighted above, the USGS has a wide range of capabilities in hydrology, biology, geology, and mapping to ad- dress groundwater resources in a fully integrated manner. Other exam- ples include expertise in coastal geology that enhances our understand- ing of near-shore geologic environments to help with issues such as freshwater discharge at the coasts and their relations to salt-water intru- sion into aquifers. Capabilities in remote sensing and land characteriza- tion provide key information for computer models and decision-support systems. Expertise in climate improves understanding of the role of cTi- mate variability and climate change on groundwater resources. Biologi- cal capabilities in habitats, wetlands, and instream-flow requirements are needed to assess the effects of groundwater development on surface wa- ter systems. Over the years, USGS groundwater studies have become more interdisciplinary. As water-supply and water quality issues be- come more intertwined, answers to questions about sustainable supplies of groundwater will be found by considering the interrelations of work done in the fields of hydrology, geology, biology, and geochemistry.

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Groundwater is a basic resource for humans and natural ecosystems and is one of the nation's most important natural resources. Groundwater is pumped from wells to supply drinking water to about 130 million U.S. residents and is used in all 50 states. About 40 percent of the nation's public water supply and much of the water used for irrigation is provided by groundwater.

Despite the importance of groundwater as one of our most precious natural resources, an organized, effective program to provide an ongoing assessment of the nation's groundwater resources does not exist. With encouragement from the U.S. Congress, the USGS is planning for a new program of regional and national scale assessment of U.S. groundwater resources, thus helping bring new order to its various groundwater resources-related activities. The Survey's senior scientists requested advice in regard to the design of such a program. In response, the committee undertook this study in support of developing an improved program relevant to regional and national assessment of groundwater resources.

This report is a product of the Committee on USGS Water Resources Research, which provides consensus advice on scientific, research, and programmatic issues to the Water Resources Division (WRD) of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). The committee is one of the groups that work under the auspices of the Water Science and Technology Board of the National Research Council (NRC). The committee considers a variety of topics that are important scientifically and programmatically to the USGS and the nation, and it issues reports when appropriate.

This report concerns the work of the WRD in science and technology relevant to assessments of groundwater resources on regional and national scales. The USGS has been conducting scientific activity relevant to groundwater resources for over 100 years and, as summarized in Appendix A, today groundwater-related work occurs throughout the WRD.

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