First and foremost it's water. It's water that is out of sight and below land surface. Because ground water is unseen it is commonly misunderstood. Many people envision ground water as flowing in underground rivers. Only in rare cases, places where caverns exist, does ground water move in that fashion. Normally, ground water moves slowly through small openings in or between sand grains of subsurface materials. Materials that provide storage for ground water are called aquifers. Ground water moves through fractured rock, sand or limestone aquifers much like soda does through a cup of crushed ice. The drinking straw is analogous to a well. Ground water always moves away from high pressure toward low pressure -- downgradient. Gradients exist naturally because ground water enters the water cycle at higher elevations and eventually flows towards the ocean. Natural gradients can be altered by withdrawing ground water from an aquifer using wells.
The confining layers also allow ground water to move greater distances in response to pumping wells. Ground water in the coastal plain can be pumped at high rates for city and county supplies. Of course, this means that pumping wells more easily interfere with one another (creating a larger cone of depression). In the area surrounding Kinston, North Carolina flowing wells were common in the 1920s. Between then and now, water levels in wells have fallen more than 150 feet in response to the aggregate pumping from public water systems, agriculture and industry. This situation concerns State officials who fear that aquifers could be damaged if withdrawal growth rates are left unchecked and water levels drop below the top of the aquifer. Also, water level drawdowns put pressure on communities with increasing populations to find alternate sources of water. That means use of surface water or a shallower aquifer which is more easily recharged.
Another concern for this region of the State comes from the potential for salt water intrusion either laterally from the ocean or upwards from deeper salty aquifers. Salt water intrusion can occur if an aquifer is stressed by pumping too close to the fresh water-salt water interface. Once salt water has invaded a portion of an aquifer more costly treatment is required to use the ground water for potable supply.
Although the source is unseen, about 27% of North Carolina water use is from ground water. In the coastal plain, that percentage is much higher, about 90%. It is important for everyone to understand the source of ground water and how it moves through the subsurface because it is a critical part of our daily lives.
|NC Division of Water Resources,
DENR - 1611 Mail
Service Center - Raleigh, NC 27699-1611
Phone: (919) 707-9000 - Fax: (919) 733-3558
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|Last Modified: 11.05.2012|