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Summary of Annual Hydrologic Conditions - 2002

Volume 2: Groundwater

Groundwater Levels

Ground water is one of the Nation’s most important natural resources. It provides about 40 percent of our Nation’s public water supply. In New Jersey, more than onehalf of the drinking-water supply comes from ground water. Managing the development and use of the ground-water resource so that the supply can be maintained for an indefinite time without causing unacceptable environmental, economic, or social consequences is of paramount importance. The New Jersey Water Supply Plan reported in 1990 that the majority of New Jersey’s water supplies are now developed, and although supplies are sufficient for the foreseeable future in most regions, some regions (mostly those relying heavily on ground water) are presently in deficit. As population and demand for water increase, strategic water management will be required for New Jersey to meet its future water-supply needs.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has operated a network of observation wells in New Jersey for the purpose of monitoring water-level changes throughout the State since 1923. Long-term systematic measurement of water levels in observation wells provides the data needed to evaluate changes in the ground-water resource over time. Records of ground-water levels are used to evaluate the effects of climate changes and water-supply development, to develop ground-water models, and to forecast trends.

New Jersey was in the midst of a 4 -year-drought during the 2002 water year. Statewide precipitation was more than 11 inches below normal from October 2001 through September 2002. The normal precipitation of 47.2 inches per water year is based on precipitation values from 1971 to 2000. As of September 2002, monthly precipitation, as calculated from a spatially weighted average of stations throughout New Jersey, had been below normal 36 of the past 50 months, including 12 of the past 15 months. (Office of the N.J. State Climatologist, Rutgers University, New Jersey, unpub. data accessed March 4, 2002, on the World Wide Web at URL http://climate.rutgers.edu) The period from September 2001 to February 2002 constituted the driest consecutive 6 months recorded since record keeping began in 1895. In November 2001, a drought warning was issued for the Delaware River Basin area. In January, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) expanded the warning to the Northeast and Coastal areas of the State. By March, Governor McGreevey had declared a Water Emergency for all of New Jersey. Statewide water-use restrictions remained in effect throughout the remainder of the 2002 water year. More New Jersey drought information can be found on the NJDEP drought web site at: www.njdrought.org.

The effects of climate on daily mean water levels in six observation wells during water year 2002 can be seen in the hydrographs shown in figure 1. Monthly extreme and long-term average water levels are shown for comparison. The Taylor, Readington School 11, and Cranston Farms 15 observation wells (NJ-WRD well numbers 37-202, 19-270, and 21-364) are open to fractured-rock aquifers; the Morrell 1, Lebanon State Forest 23-D, and Vocational School 2 observation wells (NJ-WRD well numbers 23-104, 5-689, 11-42) tap unconfined sand and gravel aquifers. These wells are all part of the USGS-NJDEP Drought Monitoring Network.

Figure 1. Ground-water levels at key observation wells in New Jersey during water year 2002.
Figure 1

During the 2002 water year, ground-water levels were measured in 184 wells. Observation wells in which water levels exceeded their previous measured extremes (highest or lowest water levels), and for which more than 2 years of data are available, are listed in table 1. Previous record low water levels were exceeded in 70 of the 184 wells in the statewide observation-well network during the 2002 water year. Fifty-nine of the record low water levels were in wells located in the Coastal Plain, and 11 were in wells located in the northern part of the State. Twenty-one of these record low levels occurred in wells that tap unconfined aquifers in the southern part of the State, and 11 occurred in stratified drift and fractured rock aquifers in the north. These record low ground-water levels can be directly attributed to the drought conditions that prevailed during the water year. Previous record high water levels were exceeded in one network observation well during the 2002 water year. That well is located in Cape May County.

Table 1. Water-level records set during the 2003 water year, in observation wells with more than 2 years of data
NJ-WRD Well NumberLocal identifierAquifer code1Lowest water-level, in feet below land surfaceValue by which previous record low was exceeded, in feetYear record began
Record Lows in the Coastal Plain of New Jersey
01-0256 Scholler 1 Obs 121CKKD 40.50 0.89 1962
01-0776 FAA Shallow Obs 121CKKD 23.42 0.98


05-0409 Atsion 3 Obs 121CKKD 9.36 0.51 1963
05-0570 Mount Obs 121CKKD 19.16 0.65 1955
05-0628 Penn SF Shallow Obs 121CKKD 6.22 0.10 1936


Penn SF Deep Obs 121CKKD 29.92 0.32 1951
05-0684 Butler Place 2 Obs 121CKKD 23.98 0.45 1965
05-0689 Lebanon State Forrest 23-D Obs 121CKKD 26.34 0.37 1955
11-0042 Vocational School 2 Obs 121CKKD 10.04 1.65 1972
11-0043 Vocational School 1 Obs 121CKKD 10.22 1.65 1972
11-0073 Sheppards 2 Obs 121CKKD 5.63 0.16 1973
11-0237 Natural Area 1 Obs 121CKKD 12.06 0.97 1972
15-0372 Newfield 2-A Obs 121CKKD 24.19 0.66 1987
15-1033 WTMUA Monitoring 1 Obs 121CKKD 20.88 2.54 1989
15-1054 USGS GSC Obs-1 Shallow 121CKKD 24.62 1.64 1991
15-1208 USGS AGO2 121CKKD 28.32 1.69 1996


USGS UND06 121CKKD 8.72 0.17 1997
29-0017 Island Beach 1 Obs 121CKKD 6.57 0.18 1962
29-0514 Garden St Pky 2 Obs 121CKKD 10.54 0.04 1962
29-1059 Fort Dix RLF-30 Obs 121CKKD 53.61 0.52 1992
09-0080 Cape May 42 Obs 121CNSY 23.97 0.79 1957
01-0037 Galen Hall Obs 122KRKDL 113.90 1.35 1949
01-0180 Oceanville 1 Obs 122KRKDL 77.02 0.35 1959
01-0578 Jobs Point Obs 122KRKDL 88.17 0.63 1959
09-0302 Coast Guard 800 Obs 122KRKDL 31.46 1.20 1990
09-0306 Oyster 800 Obs 122KRKDL 29.10 0.36 1990
09-0337 M-1 N Wildwood 800 Obs 122KRKDL 41.33 0.94 1992
09-0304 Airport Rio Grande Obs 122KRKDL 50.58 0.97 1990
01-0834 Margate Firehouse 1 Obs 124PNPN 41.14 0.54 1988
01-1219 HTMUA 9 Obs 124PNPN 85.80 0.64 1996
05-0407 Atsion 1 Obs 124PNPN +2.64 0.33 1963
05-0676 Coyle Airport Obs 124PNPN 83.32 0.08 1962
11-0044 Vocational School 3 Obs 124PNPN 89.89 1.72 1972
11-0163 Fair Grounds 3 Obs 124PNPN 91.01 1.19 1973
29-0018 Island Beach 2 Obs 124PNPN 11.53 0.11 1962
29-0425 Webbs Mills 2 Obs 124PNPN 11.55 0.15 1962
29-1210 Great Bay Blvd. 1 Obs 124PNPN 22.00 0.35 1997
29-0139 Colliers Mills 2 Obs 125VNCN 7.17 0.18 1964
05-1390 New Lisbon 2 Obs 211EGLS 97.87 0.46 1997
25-0250 Village 215 Obs 211EGLS 57.15 2.72 1971
23-0229 Forsgate 4 Obs 211FRNG 104.24 3.01 1965
05-1387 Evesham 4 Obs 211MLRW 130.01 0.64 1997
07-0118 Hutton Hill 2 Obs 211MLRW 92.24 0.56 1967
07-0478 New Brooklyn 3 Obs 211MLRW 145.29 0.61 1961
29-0140 Colliers Mills 3 Obs 211MLRW 28.17 1.41 1964
33-0020 Horner Obs 211MLRW 54.34 1.52 1959
15-0772 National Park #3-ow-al 211MRPAL 33.39 2.00 2000
33-0187 Point Airy Obs 211MRPAL 108.12 0.86 1959
15-0713 Stefka 2 Obs 211MRPAM 15.65 0.15 1987
15-727 Stefka 3 Obs 211MRPAM 15.35 0.63 1987
15-0774 National Park #4-ow-au 211MRPAM 14.75 2.03 2000
33-0251 Salem 1 Obs 211MRPAM 37.07 0.68 1965
05-1391 Coyle 2 Obs (OW 96) 211MRPAU 213.10 1.09 1997
15-0728 Stefka 4 Obs 211MRPAU 14.34 0.14 1987
29-0100 Normandy 3 Obs 211MRPAU 47.33 0.04 1998
33-0253 Salem 3 Obs 211MRPAU 31.90 0.29 1965
33-0348 Penns Grove 14 Obs 211MRPAU


0.49 1959
23-0228 Forsgate 3 Obs 211ODBG 94.57 0.85 1961
Record Lows in Northern New Jersey
27-0003 W B Driver 2 Obs 112SFDF 38.21 1.33 1966
27-0004 Clemens Obs 112SFDF 31.53 0.64 1966
27-0005 Sandoz Obs 112SFDF 43.28 0.50 1967
27-012 Briarwood School Obs 112SFDF 65.08 2.22 1967
27-0017 MBWD 4 Obs 112SFDF 42.01 3.48 1955
37-0204 Sparta Twp 6 Obs 112SFDF 56.09 5.88 1991
37-0207 Walpack Twp 4 Obs 112SFDF 29.72 0.09 1991
21-0088 SBMWA Honey Branch Obs 227PSSC 75.62 12.73 1967
37-0203 Whittingham 19 Obs 371ALNN 37.16 3.06 1991
37-0205 Swartswood Park 5 Obs 371ALNN 28.37 0.58 1991
27-1190 Black River 10 Obs 400PCMB 16.34 1.41 1991

NJ-WRD Well NumberLocal identifierAquifer code1Highest water-level, in feet below land surfaceValue by which previous record high was exceeded, in feetYear record began
Record Highs in the Coastal Plain of New Jersey
09-0049 Higbee Beach 3 Obs 121CNSY 9.43 0.04 1965

112SFDF-Stratified drift 211EGLS -Englishtown aquifer system
121CKKD-Kirkwood-Cohansey aquifer system 211MRPAU -Upper Potomac-Raritan-Magothy aquifer
121CNSY -Cohansey Sand 221MRPAM -Middle Potomac-Raritan-Magothy aquifer
122KRKDL -Atlantic City 800-ft sand of the Kirkwood Formation 221MRPAL -Lower Potomac-Raritan-Magothy aquifer
122KRKDU -Rio Grande water-bearing zone of the Kirkwood Formation 211ODBG -Old Bridge aquifer
124PNPN -Piney Point Formation 227PSSC -Passaic Formation
125VNCN -Vincentown aquifer 371ALNN -Allentown Dolomite
211MLRW -Wenonah-Mount Laurel aquifer 400PCMB -Precambrian Erathem


Water levels measured in confined aquifers in the Coastal Plain in water year 2002, together with those measured during previous years, show three general trends. (1) Water levels in observation wells that tap the Atlantic City 800-foot sand of the Kirkwood Formation, parts of the Wenonah-Mount Laurel aquifer, and the Piney Point Formation in the southern part of the Coastal Plain continued to undergo long-term net declines. (2) In Water Supply Critical Areas 1 and 2, which were established to halt waterlevel declines, water levels in several observation wells have leveled off after rising for several years. Water levels in some observation wells within these areas declined to record lows during the 2002 water year. These water-level declines could be an indirect effect of the 2002 drought. (3) The use of a desalination plant, which pumps brackish water from the Atlantic City 800-foot sand in Cape May City, has affected two confined aquifers in the Cape May City area. Increased withdrawals from the Atlantic City 800-foot sand resulted in a decline in the water level in the Coast Guard 800 observation well (NJ-WRD well number 9-302). A reduction in withdrawals from the Cohansey sand has resulted in higher water levels over the past 4 years in three observation wells (NJ-WRD well numbers 9-48, 9-49, and 9-150) in the Cape May City area.

The greatest long-term water-level decline in an observation well occurred in the New Brooklyn Park 3 observation well (NJ-WRD well number 07-478), screened in the Wenonah-Mount Laurel aquifer in Camden County. The water level in this well declined more than 86 feet since December 1962. In contrast, the greatest increase in water levels occurred in the PPWD 6 observation well (NJ-WRD well number 29-530), screened in the Englishtown aquifer system in Ocean County. The water level in this well rose more than 173 feet from August 1989 to April 2001 but declined slightly during 2002.

In 1986, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) designated two “Critical Water-Supply Management Areas” in the New Jersey Coastal Plain. (See figure 2.) This legislation was initiated as a result of concerns about long-term declines in ground-water levels in these areas where ground water is the primary source of water supply. Ground-water withdrawals from specified aquifers in these areas were reduced, and new allocations may be limited. In Critical Area 1, withdrawals from the Wenonah-Mount Laurel aquifer, Englishtown aquifer system, and Upper and Middle Potomac-Raritan-Magothy aquifers are restricted. Pumpage restrictions in this area began in 1989. In Critical Area 2, withdrawals from the Potomac-Raritan-Magothy aquifer system are restricted. Pumping restrictions in Critical Area 2 went into effect in 1996.

Figure 2. Location of Water-Supply Critical Areas in
New Jersey. These areas were designated to help
control the decline in water levels in some of the
confined aquifers. (From Watt, 2000)
Figure 2

As a result of the Critical Area legislation, longterm declines in water levels reversed and water levels rose dramatically in the Potomac-Raritan-Magothy aquifer system, Englishtown aquifer system, and Wenonah-Mount Laurel aquifer from 1991 to 1998. This rise in water levels was the result of the reduction in ground-water withdrawals from deep, confined aquifers, an increase in withdrawals from shallower aquifers, and a shift in withdrawals from ground water to surface water levels declined in some observation wells screened in the Potomac-Raritan Magothy aquifer system, the Englishtown aquifer system, and the Wenonah-Mount Laurel aquifer. Record low water levels were recorded in five observation wells in Critical Area 1 (NJ-WRD-well numbers 23-228, 23-229, 25-250, 29-100, 29-140).

In Critical Area 2, the shift in withdrawals away from the deeper, confined aquifers to surface water and ground water in shallower, confined and unconfined aquifers began in 1996. As a result, water levels rose from 1996 through 1999 in many observation wells screened in the Potomac-Raritan-Magothy aquifer system in the Critical Area. During 2002, water levels in 10 observation wells declined to record low levels in and near this Critical Area (NJ-WRD well numbers 05-1391, 15-713, 15-727, 15-728, 15-772, 15-773, 15-774, 33-251, 33-253, 33-348).

The shifting of water withdrawals to shallower confined and unconfined aquifers likely will result in reduced ground-water discharge to streams and wetlands. In addition, the vulnerability of these aquifers to drought and to recharge from undesirable sources likely will increase. The effects of the shift in withdrawals can be seen in water levels in the southern part of the State, where water levels in the Wenonah-Mount Laurel aquifer and the Englishtown aquifer system have declined in seven observation wells (NJ-WRD well numbers 5-259, 5-1387, 07-118, 07-478, 25-250, 29-140, 33-20).

In the northern part of the State, most ground-water withdrawals are from unconfined and fractured rock aquifers. Water levels in 11 observation wells open to stratified drift and fractured rock exceeded their previous record lows during 2002. The water level in the Briarwood school observation well (NJ-WRD well number 27-12) in Morris County declined by 9.4 feet from June 1998 to September 2002 and remained near the lowest recorded levels since monitoring began at this site in 1967.

The U.S.Geological Survey, in cooperation with the NJDEP, established a Drought Monitoring Network in 2001. NJDEP divided New Jersey into six drought regions on the basis of watersheds and water-supply characteristics. Drought indicators (ground-water levels, precipitation, streamflow, and reservoir contents) are monitored continuously in each region. The ground-water-level network, which is one part of the Drought Monitoring Network, was created to provide data to indicate water-level trends in shallow ground-water systems. Satellite telemetry has been added to 15 wells with continuous recorders in order to make the data available in the shortest time possible. An additional seven wells, which previously were measured periodically, were equipped with continuous recorders, and the frequency of measurements was increased at four additional wells. Current data from these wells and other shallow observation wells are compared to monthly statistics of historical data to put the current water levels in context. These data, along with data on precipitation, streamflow, and reservoir contents provide the information needed to determine the hydrologic conditions in each drought region. The USGS Fact Sheet FS-129-02 “Real-Time Ground-Water Level Monitoring in New Jersey” (Jones and others, 2002) describes the ground-water level satellite telemetry segment of the Drought Monitoring Network in more detail. Realtime ground-water-level data can be accessed on the Internet web pages of the USGS at http://water.usgs.gov/nj/nwis/current/?type=gw.


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