Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station [The New Jersey Water Resources Research Institute]

Research at the U. S. Geological Survey
New Jersey Water Science Center

Research Activities at the
USGS New Jersey Water Science Center in 2004

By Anthony S. Navoy, Ph.D.
Assistant Director
USGS New Jersey Water Science Center
(formerly known as USGS New Jersey District Office)

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), a Bureau of the Department of the Interior, has an extensive program of hydrologic data collection and research in New Jersey that is focused on providing information pertaining to hydrologic hazards, watershed and water-supply management, vulnerability of source waters for drinking water, and hazardous-waste-site characterization. These data-collection and research activities are done in cooperation with the N.J. Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) , N.J. Department of Transportation, N.J. Pinelands Commission, N.J. Water Supply Authority, Rutgers University, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), and many county and municipal agencies.

Hydrologic Hazards:The USGS operates streamflow-gaging and ground-water-level networks to monitor conditions relating to flood and drought hazards, and to provide hydrologic data for research, regulatory, and management purposes. The streamflow-gaging network in New Jersey in 2004 included 99 flow gages, of which 84 were equipped with data-collection platforms (DCP’s) for automatic telemetry; 5 additional stations record only stream stage. The network also included 106 crest-stage gaging stations and 95 stations where low-flow measurements were periodically made. Three flood-warning systems were operated to provide emergency management personnel with critical real-time hydrologic data.

USGS Hydrologist Tim Reed making a discharge measurement on West Brook near Wanaque, N.J. (photo by John Trainor)

These systems included a Coastal Tide Network, composed of 28 tide gages, 30 crest-stage gaging stations, and 5 weather stations; a network in Somerset County composed of 5 streamflow, 13 stage-only, 7 crest-stage, and 9 rain gages; and a network in Passaic County composed of 21 streamflow gaging stations and 35 rain gages. These networks were instrumental in monitoring two significant flood events in 2004 -- the July 12-14, 2004 , flooding in parts of Burlington, Camden, and Ocean Counties and the September 17-23, 2004 , flooding of the Delaware River and its tributaries.

The ground-water network consisted of 185 wells (50 in shallow aquifers) where water levels were monitored to assess the effects of withdrawals and climatological changes; 111 wells had continuous recording equipment, including 16 that were equipped with DCP’s. Sixteen wells had maximum/minimum water-level recorders; and 58 wells were measured manually about four times per year.

The streamflow and ground-water level networks have stations that are well suited for monitoring conditions during droughts. These included 43 streamflow gaging stations equipped with DCP’s, 35 low-flow measurement sites, 16 shallow wells equipped with DCP’s, and 14 shallow wells equipped with continuous monitors.

Watershed and Water Supply Management: USGS research projects pertaining to watershed and water-supply management relied on the networks described above. The projects addressed the development of flow models and characterization of aquifers and watersheds. Projects that included the development of ground-water flow models for Ocean County, Salem and Gloucester Counties, and Cape May County were underway. These efforts focused on the collection of detailed hydrologic data for model development and calibration, such as hydrogeologic framework information from borehole and driller’s logs; results of aquifer tests; and water-level, streamflow, and water-use data. The results of these ground-water investigations can be used in water planning, regulation, and management tasks. Analysis continued on the synoptic water-level measurements that were made in the Coastal Plain confined aquifers in late 2003. This important data-collection campaign has been undertaken every 5 years since 1978 to obtain water-level measurements from 750 to 1000 wells in the 10 major confined aquifers of the New Jersey Coastal Plain. These measurements provide data on ground-water conditions for many purposes, including model calibration and regulatory decision-making.

The development of a surface-water flow model of the Passaic River basin was undertaken by USGS as part of a consortium, to facilitate the establishment of total maximum daily loads (TMDLs) for the river basin. The ecological flow goals project was underway with efforts aimed to define the minimum streamflow needed to protect aquatic ecosystem integrity using hydrologic indices developed from existing streamflow data. USGS, part of a research team with the New Jersey Pinelands Commission, Rutgers University, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and NJDEP, continued work on a multiyear investigation to define the relation between the hydrology of southern New Jersey and the Pinelands ecosystem.

Vulnerability of Source Waters For Drinking Water: USGS undertook studies to monitor the water quality of streams and ground water in order to assess environmental effects and vulnerabilities of drinking-water supplies. Sampling was accomplished at 116 sites in a statewide surface-water-quality network. These sites included 6 background sites, 42 statewide status sites, 22 watershed integrator sites, 42 land use indicator sites (undeveloped, agriculture, urban, mixed), and 4 sites on the Delaware River. The sites were sampled seasonally (4 times per year). Continuous monitoring to assess the short-term variability of water quality was conducted at 3 sites for the entire year and at 16 sites for a period of 3 to 7 days. The focus for the statewide ground-water-quality network is to assess nonpoint source contamination. The network is composed of 150 randomly selected shallow wells in urban, agricultural, and undeveloped land-use areas. Each year, 30 wells are sampled in a 5-year cycle. USGS and NJDEP cooperatively collect the samples from streams and wells in these networks.

USGS scientists assembling a sampling device for insertion into a well to enable long-term sampling from fractured zones at the NAWC site in West Trenton, N.J. (photo by Dan Goode)

Several studies were conducted to investigate the vulnerability of drinking water to contamination, particularly by trace elements, organic compounds and radionuclides. An investigation was conducted to determine the movement of radium in septic systems and the potential for radium to migrate to domestic wells. The USGS has an ongoing effort to characterize the concentrations of pharmaceutical compounds and “emerging” contaminants in streams and ground water. Work during 2004 included sampling and analysis to determine the presence of these contaminants in New Jersey streams and the persistence of these contaminants through drinking-water treatment processes. A study was begun to define the natural and anthropogenic sources and concentrations of arsenic in waters of the Wallkill River basin in New Jersey. This information will facilitate development of TMDL’s in that river basin. The USGS National Water Quality Assessment Program has two study units that encompass all of New Jersey and parts of surrounding states, the Long Island-New Jersey Coastal Drainages and Delaware River Basin. These study units are in a low intensity phase; some surface-water samples were collected at stations for water-quality analysis. USGS continued an effort in cooperation with USEPA Region 2, NJDEP, and water purveyors to devise procedures to provide for an early warning system to detect contaminants in surface-water sources of drinking water supplies.

Hazardous-Waste-Site Characterization: USGS, in cooperation with USEPA continued the characterization of hazardous waste sites in Fair Lawn, Pohatcong Valley, and in the vicinity of the Puchack wellfield in Pennsauken. These activities involved defining the hydrogeology as it pertains to the potential source and movement of contaminants. The USGS Toxic Substances Hydrology Program, in conjunction with the U.S. Navy, continued an investigation of the occurrence and movement of trichloroethylene in fractured rock at the former Naval Air Warfare Center in West Trenton.

Much of the hydrologic data collected by USGS in New Jersey in 2004 can be accessed on the New Jersey Water Science Center web page at USGS publications, for New Jersey (and elsewhere) can be ordered and in some cases downloaded from the Publications Warehouse web page at

USGS – New Jersey Water Science Center contact information:

U.S. Geological Survey
810 Bear Tavern Road, Suite 206
West Trenton, NJ 08628
Phone: (609) 771-3900
FAX: (609) 771-3915



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