The Geology of Delaware

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Delaware's Water Budget


Because of its "renewability" water is unique among earth resources that sustain and enhance life. No other mineral resource that we extract on a long-term and continuous basis can be counted on for at least some degree of replenishment within a human lifetime. This attribute allows a great deal of flexibility in management of the resource. In Delaware local rainfall, approximately 44" to 46" per year, renews part or all of our water supply on a regular basis. However, not all of the rain that falls is available for use. From this total rainfall must be subtracted the water that evaporates (about 20"/year), the amount that is used by plants (about 3 to 6"/year), and the amount that runs overland to surface streams during storms (about 4 to 5"/year). The remainder, approximately 13" to 15" is Delaware's bank of water for the year. This water is stored in a system of groundwater reservoirs, or aquifers, that underlie most of the state. Not only do these groundwater reservoirs provide water to wells, but thyey also maintain the flow in surface streams during times of no rainfall. Streamflow between rainfall events is nothing more than the discharge of excess groundwater.

How much water is there?
Water Equivalents
Inches/Year Billion Gallons/Day
44 4.2
26 2.5
18 1.7
14 1.3
4 0.4

Precipitation: Condensed water vapor that falls to the Earth's surface. Most precipitation occurs as rain, but also includes snow, hail, and sleet.

Runoff: The variety of ways by which water moves across the land. This includes both surface runoff and direct runoff. As it flows, the water may seep into the ground, evaporate into the air, become stored in lakes or reservoirs, or be extracted for agricultural or other human uses.

Infiltration: The flow of water from the ground surface into the ground. Once infiltrated, the water becomes soil moisture or groundwater.

Groundwater Flow: The flow of water underground, in the vadose zone and aquifers. Subsurface water may return to the surface (e.g. as a spring or by being pumped) or eventually seep into the oceans. Water returns to the land surface at lower elevation than where it infiltrated, under the force of gravity or gravity induced pressures. Groundwater tends to move slowly, and is replenished slowly, so it can remain in aquifers for thousands of years.

Evaporation: The transformation of water from liquid to gas phases as it moves from the ground or bodies of water into the overlying atmosphere. The source of energy for evaporation is primarily solar radiation. Evaporation often implicitly includes transpiration from plants, though together they are specifically referred to as evapotranspiration.

Transpiration: The release of water vapor from plants and soil into the air.