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Executive Summary The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has a long and distinguished history in support of regional groundwater management activities, from the construction of water table maps in the late nineteenth century to the Regional Aquifer-System Analysis (RASA) Program of the 1970s and 1980s. However, water resources management has become increasingly complex over time. Large-scaTe groundwater development throughout the nation has resulted in many ill effects, including lowering of water tables, salt-water intrusion, subsidence, and Towered baseflow in streams, with corresponding ecological damage. Groundwater, surface water, and aquatic ecosystems are now seen to be closely interrelated and can no longer be managed and regulated independently. Despite the national importance of groundwater, there is little on- going assessment of the nation's groundwater resources at regional and national scales. The USGS is, however, planning to reshape its Ground- Water Resources Program (GWRP) to focus its various activities in this field. As noted in the Preface, this study was undertaken to assess and provide guidance on efforts to implement such plans. The committee has concluded that regional groundwater assessment activity of the nature proposed by the USGS should be pursued and that regional and national groundwater assessments should generally have relevance to groundwater sustainability. The management and policy questions that drive regional assessments of sustainability will, in turn, identify and drive the need for regional scientific investigations in fun- damental process-oriented groundwater science. The broad topic of sus-
2 Investigating Ground~water Systems tainability includes the interaction of management decisions (e.g., pumping rates, conjunctive use of groundwater and surface water), re- source dynamics (e.g., climatic change, recharge rates), environmental impacts (e.g., streamflow depletion, water quality degradation), and emerging technologies (e.g., aquifer storage and recovery projects). This demand for process-oriented groundwater science to support policy- relevant assessment and management suggests parallel and synthesized approaches, namely regional groundwater assessments (i.e., evaluation of the quantity and quality of available groundwater, recharge, extraction rates, etc.) and regional groundwater science (i.e., the study of critical processes of regional significance, systematically approached). This framework can accommodate regional studies of many different types. For example, a groundwater "region" may be defined as a multi- state but geographically contiguous, hydrogeologically distinct area. An example of this is the High Plains aquifer, which was one of the RASA study areas. Alternatively, it may be defined as a discontinuous but widespread aquifer type characterized by a common process or set of processes. An example of this is a karstic aquifer in a temperate climate. One of the accomplishments of the RASA Program was the reconcilia- tion of the hydrostratigraphy of adjacent states. This facilitated the creation of regional groundwater maps and conceptual models of many of the regional flow systems. It is now necessary to broaden that per- spective by integrating processes as well as properties across regions, and extrapolating the understanding of processes at key sites to larger areas. The committee has concluded that the following lines of research should be given the highest priority in the context of national and re- gional groundwater studies: . Aquifer management: Optimizing groundwater extraction while limiting undesirable effects such as salt-water intrusion, land subsidence and harm to ecosystems, Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR) projects: Use of aquifers for repeated storage and recovery of water of varying quality, · Groundwater recharge: Quantifying rates, spatial locations, and mechanisms of recharge from local to regional scale, · Surficial aquifers: Evaluating hydrogeology, water-level changes, and water quality changes, . Interaction of groundwater with surface water: Processes and .
Executive Summary 3 mechanisms in wetlands, rivers, lakes, and coastal areas, · Characterization of heterogeneous aquifers at large and small scales: Understanding links between geology and hydrogeology, and de- veloping new characterization methodologies, and · Flow and transport in karst and fractured aquifers. As part of this research the USGS should continue to explore new modeling techniques that may provide insights into the priority research areas listed above. Financial resources for regional work should be increasing substan- tially, but realistically may be limited. The Federal-State Cooperative Water (Coop) Program, which generally focuses on fairly local issues, and the National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program to- gether account for nearly 70 percent of the Water Resources Division (WRD) expenditures; the GWRP pilot projects account for only about 2 percent. Because large budget increases are unlikely, a meaningful re- gional groundwater program must utilize the resources of the NAWQA, Coop, Toxic Substances Hydrology, and National Research Programs. The current Middle Rio Grande Basin and Southwest Groundwater proj- ects have used this management approach with some success. Coordi- nation should include the identification of common data collection, QA/QC, sampling, and archiving protocols to maximize each issue- driven study's contribution to the regional and national groundwater in- formation base. Of existing programs, the Coop Program is one of the most compati- ble with regional groundwater studies. Activities of the Coop Program should be aligned with WRD objectives where possible. Because re- search agendas are driven locally but are competitive, district chiefs can steer activities by selecting the projects most in line with regional objec- t~ves. There are also readily transferable structures between national syn- thesis in the NAWQA Program (in agreement with NRC, 1994) and the challenges and opportunities for regional and national synthesis in the GWRP. Just as the NAWQA Program was initiated and refined through pilot studies, the Survey's current regional assessments in the Middle Rio Grande basin represent a similar prototype for the development of consistent protocols for regional and national assessment. The complexity and the multidisciplinary nature of most regional projects argue for collaboration with other divisions within the USGS
4 Investigating Groundwater Systems (Biological Resources Division, Geologic Division, and Mapping Divi- sion) as well as with other federal agencies, state and local governments, universities, and private industry. For example, geologic information (geologic maps, facies analyses, and hydrostratigraphic models) may assist in scaling up the results of a local groundwater study into areas where "hard" hydrogeologic data are sparse or nonexistent. The USGS should consider formally implementing a steering proc- ess for selecting regional and national-scale groundwater issues for study. This should be done through advisory councils operating at the state and national levels, and the Survey should allocate funding for the travel, per diem, and other expenses required to operate these commit- tees. The Survey has taken a similar approach with the Mapping Advi- sory Council, which aids decision-making for the USGS Mapping Divi- s~on. Liaison committees should be established for each study unit, fol- Towing the model of the NAWQA Program. The committee members should serve as advisors and should consist of state, local, and federal agency water managers, planners, scientists and engineers; university researchers; and representatives from environmental organizations, citi- zens groups, and other stakeholders. USGS scientists at the district level should be encouraged and rewarded for participating in these and other outreach activities. Summary publications, circulars, and fact sheets appropriate to both technical audiences and decision-makers should be encouraged. The Survey should also strive to assist in the coordination of groundwater research and data collection among outside groups, such as other federal agencies, state agencies, universities, and the private sector. Although the Survey obviously cannot and should not influence the spe- cific research activities of such organizations, it can provide expert guid- ance and advice on specific scientific issues and can help shape the na- tional scientific agenda with respect to groundwater research. In addition to these forms of outreach, however, the GWRP should, along with the other groundwater programs within the USGS, emulate the National Streamgauging Program in moving aggressively to post primary and interpretive data on the Internet. Groundwater data are widely applicable but are expensive to acquire, so their preservation in long-lasting and easily accessible formats should be an integral part of all regional studies. The proposed medium for many of these kinds of data the National
Executive Summa7y s Aquifer Data Base should be well integrated with the existing National Atlas of the United States (http://www.usgs.gov/atIas). The GIS-based Atlas already contains a wide variety of viewable and do~vnIoadable in- formation from different agencies. It can be viewed at a national, state, or local scale, is organized thematically, and can handle many different data types. Well locations can be plotted and linked to water-level data in a way analogous to the existing system for streamflow data. Ongoing and completed project domains (e.g., the 25 RASA study areas) can be mapped and linked to their data and reports. Maps and mode! simulation results should be available not only in formats suitable for viewing on- line, but also in georeferenced formats that can be downloaded and im- ported into GIS packages.