Sourcewater Protection Program in the East Penn Valley

collaborative project with Al Guiseppe (P.G.) of Spotts, Stevens, and McCoy, Inc.

Groundwater recharge of aquiferThe water we drink in the East Penn Valley comes from a water-soaked body of rock called an aquifer.  We drill holes down to aquifers called wells from which we pump groundwater to drink, wash, etc.

The water in the aquifer is originally rainwater and melting snow.  These waters seep downward into the ground and percolate through the soil and fractured bedrock until they reach the aquifer.  Once in the aquifer, water is free to flow laterally (north/ east/ south/ west/ etc.) instead of just downward. 

Some rocks are easier for water to flow through than others.  The ease with which water flows through rock is called the rocks permeability.  Highly permeable rocks allow water to flow through quickly.  Rocks with low permeability block the underground flow of water - we call those aquicludes or aquitards, depending on whether they completely block flow or just slow it down a lot, respectively. 

For rainwater to get into the an aquifer, it must either fall onto the surface of the earth in a place covered by permeable rocks, or else seep into the ground through the permeable bed of a stream.  Regions where the surface rocks are pemeable enough for rainwater to percolate down into the aquifer are called recharge zones because they refresh the aquifer like recharging a battery (except with water instead of electic potential). 

Hydrogeology research group

The Boroughs (towns) in the Kutztown region know that as the regions population grows, we will need to draw more water from the aquifer.  Also as the region becomes more developed, people will build buildings, parking lots, streets, and other very structures with very low permeabilities that block the recharge zones, preventing the aquifers from receiving new water to replace that which we drink from wells.  Recharge zones are also places where pollution from the surface can enter and contaminate our aquifer. 

It is wise to identify these recharge zones so we don't block them up with with parking lots or allow pollution to ruin our water supply.  The Sourcewater Protection Program is an intiative of our local government to determine where rainwater enters our aquifer so we can plan where to build and not to build.  The Borough hired a local geological engineering company (Spotts, Stevens, and McCoy, Inc.) to develop a hydrogeologic model of the valley.  The company partnered with Kutztown University's geology program to monitor the water level in wells in the valley so their professional hydrogeologists could better understand the shape of the water table in the region and model groundwater flow.  It's nice to see the good that we can do when we all work together. 

Several students worked to measure the water levels in wells around the valley using an electronic water level tape, as well as a GPS to precisely locate their measurements.  Michele, Dana, and Dee did a great job!

Stream gaging - Saucony Creek

gaging the creekTo determining whether Saucony Creek gains water from the aquifer - what we call a gaining stream - or contributes water to the aquifer - a losing stream, we measured the amount of flow at several points along the creek.  If the amount of flow, called the discharge, was greater as we moved downstream, then the Saucony would be classified as a gaining stream.  Conversely, if discharge decreases downstream, then the Saucony would be a losing stream.  This is an important consideration in developing a hydrogeologic model of the region. 

gaging the creekWe did this in February when the temperature a couple degrees above freezing, making it a cold dip in the creek.  It wasn't so bad after a while, though, because the students wore waders and my legs numbed up after a while.  :-)

gaging the creekWe didn't have a fancy top-setting wading rod in the department at the time, so we made due with a meter stick.  No one can ever accuse me of being anything but cheap!

gaging the creekWhat kind of a nut gives a lecture on integration (calculus) while standing in frigid water?  And what kind of students would listen to such a spiel?  Very dedicated ones!
I love the fact that I have such outstanding students!

Residential well water level measurements

monitoring residential wellsTo map the shape of the water table in the study area, we visited several dozen residential water wells to measure the depth to water.  Subtracting the depth to water from the elevation of the well gives us the elevation of the water table.  Plotting these elevation data on a map allows us to make a contour map of the water table and so predict the hydrologic gradients that drive groundwater flow in the aquifer. 

Michele, Dana, Mrs. Strauss, and Dee at our first well
Michele holding Dr. Friehauf's portable white board for explaining things, Dana holding maps and water level tape for measuring depth to water in well, and Dee holding field notebook and pencil with extra hard leads (so doesn't smear).

monitoring residential wellsThe team worked well together.  Each person had their job and coordinated well with the others.  We periodically traded off duties, too, so everyone had a chance to learn all of the skills involved. 

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