USGS News Release: Ground-Water Levels Starting to Decline Region's Streams Still at Record Lows
U.S. Geological Survey
U.S. Department of the Interior
Date: April 7, 2006
Contact: Daniel J. Soeder
Ground-Water Levels Starting to Decline
Region?s Streams Still at Record Lows
Editors: More detailed information on the DC. -- Baltimore area is available
Despite recent rain, water levels in streams throughout the Mid-Atlantic
and surrounding regions remain near record lows for this time of year,
according to hydrologists at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Although
rains over the past week have improved conditions in parts of the Midwest,
West Virginia and Ohio, rivers and streams from northwestern Pennsylvania
to southeastern North Carolina are still flowing at levels below normal.
?Stream data collected for 109 years by the USGS on the Potomac River at
Point of Rocks tell us that normal flows this week should be about 15,000
cubic feet per second, but the actual streamflows are less than 4,000,?
said Dan Soeder, hydrologist at the USGS Water Science Center in Baltimore,
Md. ?Levels this low usually don't occur until July or August. Streams
were flowing at essentially normal conditions until about mid-February,
but have been dropping steadily since then.?
The National Weather Service reported that only 0.05 inch of rain fell
in March 2006 at Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C. compared to
a normal value of 3.60 inches for the month. Thurgood Marshall BWI
Airport near Baltimore recorded similar low values -- just 0.18 inch of
rain in March 2006 compared to 3.93 inches during a normal March.
Spring is usually the wettest time of the year in the eastern United States,
with high flows in streams from rainfall and snowmelt, and significant
infiltration of water into the soil to recharge ground-water aquifers.
The dry spring could have impacts later in the summer on regional
water resources and on the Chesapeake Bay.
Ground-water levels so far are generally showing relatively minor drops
from the dry weather. Declines in water levels of a few feet were
observed in wells in eastern Maryland and Delaware during March, but wells
in Frederick, Washington, and Allegany counties showed more significant
Although the declines in regional ground-water levels are generally modest,
the fact that levels are declining at all is of concern. Spring is
the time of year when ground water normally recharges, and the water levels
should actually be rising in March, not falling. Seepage of ground
water provides the majority of flow to streams during the absence of runoff,
and drawdown of the shallow ground water by streamflow will continue as
long as precipitation remains below normal.
Most of the municipal ground water used in the region is supplied from
deep, confined aquifers, which remain relatively unaffected. If the
dry weather continues into the late spring or summer, however, these water
resources could face increasing demands.
According to the Baltimore city government, storage in the Baltimore reservoir
system is at 100 percent of capacity. The Washington Suburban Sanitation
Commission reports that Triadelphia and Duckett reservoirs on the Patuxent
River, which serve Montgomery and Prince George's counties, also have nearly
full storage, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is showing a near-normal
pool elevation in Jennings Randolph Reservoir on the Potomac River.
Freshwater flow into the Chesapeake Bay set a new record low in 2006 for
the month of March, averaging 51,500 cubic feet per second (cfs), equivalent
to 313 billion gallons per day. This is 65 percent below average
for March, and 10,000 cfs lower than the previous March low-flow record
set in 1981.
Consequences of the low river flows include reduced nutrient and sediment
loads to the bay, and higher salinities because of less freshwater input.
Fewer nutrients and less sediment could result in improved water
quality conditions for fish and crabs this summer. On the other hand,
higher salinities could make oysters more susceptible to disease, impact
fresh-water species of underwater grasses, and favor greater numbers of
In May, the Chesapeake Bay Program (CBP) will be producing an ecological
forecast of summer conditions. The USGS interacts with the CBP partners
to produce the ecological forecast by providing river flow and nutrient
loads to the bay as one of the critical pieces of information for the predictions.
More information about USGS studies to help with the protection and
restoration of the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed can be found at http://chesapeake.usgs.gov
Streamflow and ground-water levels are used to assess current water conditions
and help to predict the potential for flooding and drought. These USGS
data are provided to state and local water resource managers, and are critical
for making appropriate decisions on water regulation.
Real-time and historical data on streamflow and ground-water levels in
Maryland, Delaware, and Washington, D.C. are available on the web at http://md.water.usgs.gov/waterdata/
The USGS national streamflow map is updated daily at http://water.usgs.gov/waterwatch/.
The USGS serves the nation by providing reliable scientific information
to: describe and understand the Earth; minimize loss of life and property
from natural disasters; manage water, biological, energy, and mineral resources;
and enhance and protect our quality of life.
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