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Great Falls of the Passaic River at Paterson, N.J

Great Falls of the Passaic River at Paterson, N.J.

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Evaluation of bacterial contamination in surface water and shallow groundwater in Morristown National Historical Park, New Jersey

Project Title:Evaluation of bacterial contamination in surface water and shallow groundwater in Morristown National Historical Park, New Jersey
Project Number: 2454AZP
Project Chief:
Project Start Date: 01-JUL-2003
Project End Date: 30-SEP-2004

Project Objectives

This study proposes to:

  1. determine the presence of potential consumer chemicals that can be used as indicators of wastewater contamination and thus indicate septic wastewaters as a likely source of the fecal coliform bacteria;
  2. to determine if any waste water compounds suspected of being endocrine disruptors are reaching the otherwise pristine stream within the MNHP,
  3. to characterize potential transport pathways from the known septic systems through shallow groundwater to the surface water through the use of concentration gradients of the chemical tracers; and
  4. characterize the residence time of the shallow groundwater before discharging to the headwater stream (Primrose Brook) with transient tracers.

Statement of Problem

The National Park Service (NPS) initiated a two-year sampling program in 1996 to determine the source, extent, and transport pathways of sanitary indicator bacteria in the Jockey Hollow Unit (JHU) of the Morristown National Historical Park (MNHP) in response to detection of these bacteria in surface and shallow groundwaters of the Park during resource assessment studies (Mele and Mele, 1983). A potable water well that supplied drinking water to the public was closed because of high levels of fecal coliform bacteria. The historically important JHU, encompasses at the north boundary, the ridges that form the headwater basins of the Passaic River in an area where sewer systems are absent. Individual septic systems handle waste both within and outside the boundaries of the Park. Septic system leachate has been considered a potential source of the fecal coliform bacteria contamination of these nearly pristine streams ever since the contamination was first reported (Mele and Mele, 1983) thus conflicting with the anti-degradation designation of these waters. Results of the two-year program defined the extent of the fecal coliform bacteria problem both spatially and temporally (Berger and Associates, 1998); concentrations in individual samples of both surface water and groundwater exceeded a most probable number (MPN) of 2400 colonies per 100 mL. The initial results described therein indicate that despite spatial and temporal characterization of the fecal coliform bacterial populations (Berger and Associates, 1998) and the verification of the large wildlife (white-tail deer) population, potential fecal contamination of human origin of shallow groundwater and surface water resources of MNHP cannot be eliminated. The source and transport pathways could not be determined with the collected information.

Strategy and Approach

The problem of fecal coliform bacterial contamination in an anti-degradation stream requires characterization of possible source, additional contaminants, and the potential rate of mobility. This synoptic study will investigate water quality from an additional surface water site and up to 7 groundwater sites in addition to ongoing fixed-station surface-water monitoring during selected seasonal conditions, namely summer, when bacteria have shown peak numbers, and late fall, when numbers have significantly declined. The water resources in the Park are related to the historic circumstances that are the provisions for the enabling legislation (available water resources for drinking was part of the reason for General Washington’s encampment). The anti-degradation classification of the water resources and the in-stream presence of a locally classified endangered species of trout heighten concern. Movement of septic effluent in the pristine environment of the Park in the fractured-rock terrain to the wells and/or stream is of concern. The study collects baseline information where it does not yet exist (wells) and provides evaluation of the spatial relationship of possible sources that may contribute to the problem. The presence of the consumer chemicals does not positively determine if septic system wastewater is the source of the fecal coliform (Escherichia coli) bacterial contamination, but does verify the presence of wastewater.

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Page Last Modified: Monday, 14-Jan-2013 11:02:16 EST