Identifying and Mitigating Groundwater

Recharge Issues in Aiken, SC
Josh Joslin, Caroline Haggard, and Javonte Isaac

ECIV 563 Summer 2016
University of South Carolina

Aiken, SC, an area that relies heavily on groundwater resources for industrial,
agricultural, and drinking water, has in recent years experienced drops in groundwater elevation
levels. Aiken County is known for having sandy, highly pervious soils that aid in quickly
recharging the local underlying aquifers from which water is pumped. Probable causes of this
decrease in groundwater recharge may include additional development and conversion of
pervious cover to impervious cover, and increased pumpage caused by a population boom. In
order to ensure that growing demands on the water supply in Aiken are met in the future, it is
imperative to look at what is causing water levels to drop and what can be done now to replace
decreased water resources. This report explores low-impact development options that are
available to and recommended for the county and city of Aiken to implement to encourage
stormwater infiltration and groundwater recharge.

Of the 11,506.7 acres of soil analyzed from the Web Soils Survey centered around
Aiken, almost ten percent belong to hydrologic soil group A (shown in Fig. 1 and Table 1).
These soils that account for 1,100 acres of the area of interest, have a very high infiltration rate
and a high rate of water transmission. These soils allow for a quick recharging of a groundwater
source. 30.4 percent, or 3528.7 acres of the AOI, consisted of group B soils. These soils have
a moderate infiltration rate and a moderate rate of water transmission. These soils will allow
water to pass somewhat easily and recharge groundwater sources such as aquifers. Nearly 60
percent of soils in the area analyzed belonged to the C hydrologic soil group. These soils have
a slow infiltration rate and a slow rate of water transmission. Still, these soils will allow for some
water transfer from surface to groundwater storage. Less than one percent of the soils in the
AOI were of the group D. These soils are very constricting of water flow and are mainly fine
clays that have high shrink-swell potential. These results show that Aiken is an ideal location for
the use of groundwater. The soils in the area surrounding the center of the city encourage the
infiltration of water into groundwater sources and shows why groundwater is the main source of
water usage in the city and surrounding areas.
Figure 1. Hydrologic soil groups found in the Aiken area.
Table 1. Amount of area covered by each hydrologic soil group.

As shown in Figure 2, the majority of the soils in the area of interest are well drained.
This map shows that the soils are favorable for a groundwater system. A lot of the area that this
well drained soil covers is covered by non permeable cover. Buildings and streets restrict the
flow of water from seeping into the groundwater systems. This decreasing of recharge into
groundwater aquifers will continue to decrease as more non permeable surface construction
takes place. This will cause the net drainage into aquifers to decrease and create more of a
problem for Aiken and its groundwater issues.
Figure 2. Soil drainage classes of soils found in the Aiken area.

Groundwater Usage
Most of the water that Aiken uses comes from groundwater stored in the Southeastern
Atlantic Coastal Plain aquifer. This aquifer stretches over most of the Southeastern United
States coastline from Mississippi to South Carolina. Water infiltrates the aquifer at the surface
and generally flows south and east towards the coast. Specifically, most wells in Aiken were
drilled through the local Crouch Branch and McQueen Branch aquifers. These sand aquifers
are interbedded with confining layers of clay.
Figure 3. Local aquifers underneath southwestern Aiken County, SC.

Groundwater is the main source of water for residential and commercial uses in Aiken,
SC, with Aiken County using 15 million gallons per day in 2010. This number does not include
seasonal irrigation pumping that was not reported. The City of Aiken alone uses 7 million gallons
of groundwater per day, more than five times the average daily water use in 1983. This
increasing trend in groundwater usage is consistent with the rapid increase in population and
new development in Aiken, particularly in the south of the city, since the 1980s. One of the major
industrial consumers of groundwater in the Aiken area is the Savannah River Site, which has its
own supply wells on-site. However, in 2011, SRS used 3.3 million gallons per day of
groundwater, a significant decrease from 10.8 million gallons per day in the mid-1980s. Since
water table elevations are still dropping in spite of a major decrease in water usage at SRS, this
data seems to suggest that the lack of groundwater recharge is possibly due to an increase in
impervious cover in the Aiken area.
The groundwater table in the Aiken area has substantially dropped over the last 50
years. In 1966, the groundwater table was 144.77 feet from the surface. In 2013, the
groundwater table was 165.81 feet from the land surface. Between the high point and low point
in elevations, 47 years, the water table has dropped 21.04 feet. That’s a 0.45 foot drop each
year. This shows the problem Aiken has with groundwater and how the problem has only grown
since the 1950s. The Savannah River Site, which opened in the 1950s, may have had an
impact directly and indirectly on the decreasing groundwater source in Aiken. The expansion of
the city has certainly had an impact on the water system in Aiken because of an increased need
for water for the growing population.
Figure 4. Changes in water table elevations in Aiken, SC since 1951.

Impacts of Development
Since its construction in the 1980’s, the Aiken Mall in South Aiken has been a hub for
growth in the city. The mall marked an era of southern expansion for the city due to the
increased interest with the Savannah River Site. This expansion brought with it the need for
more residential housing and businesses. In 1994, the amount of undeveloped land that
immediately surrounded the mall was 174 acres (Fig.5.a). Fast forward to 2015, and the
amount of undeveloped land around the mall shrinks to a miniscule 38 acres (Fig.5.b). Almost
of all the taken up land has been used for residential housing. In 1980, just seven tenths of a
mile north of the mall, a new high school, South Aiken High school, was opened. This allowed
for the further settling of the southern area of the city and, therefore, replaced the once grassy
landscape with a non permeable asphalt skin.
Figure 5. Development around Aiken Mall, 1994 v. 2015.
Figure 5(a) Figure 5(b)

Groundwater levels in Aiken County dropped an average of 6-7 feet from 1993-2012.
Looking at the area of interest, with a total area of roughly 11,500 acres and an average drop in
elevation of 6.5 feet, Aiken County has lost almost 3.3 billion cubic feet of recharge in 20 years.
The average rainfall in Aiken has increased over the last century, suggesting that the drop in
groundwater elevation is due to other factors besides climate. By looking at increased
groundwater usage and increased rainfall amounts, it appears that the drop in the water table is
caused by increased pumpage. Looking at Fig. 5 of the Aiken Mall area, one can see an
example of the increase in developed areas in Aiken, indicating an increase in impervious cover
as well (parking lots and rooftops). Both of these causes are most likely the leading contributors
to the drop in groundwater elevations.
Recommended Steps

Low-Impact Development Options
Looking at the town of Aiken, there are a significant amount of large parking lots that are
paved over with impervious surfaces and do not allow stormwater to infiltrate. The town of Aiken
could benefit from a combination of several different low-impact development best management
practices in order to restore historical levels of stormwater infiltration.
Areas of interest where maybe smaller lots can be developed are churches. Aiken has a
lot of churches in the city limits and most have a large paved parking lot. These parking lots may
be retrofitted so that bioretention areas can be established. The soils within the city are well
drained and if the parking lots are sized so that gardens could be added, it would not only be
beneficial for the groundwater table but the church as well because they could decorate the
gardens with various flowers.
Since the soil within Aiken is typically well drained based on the soil classifications map
(Fig. 2), roadside swales or infiltration trenches may be an effective way to help recharge the
groundwater table. The city of Aiken sits on a dome so during rainfall periods, runoff can go into
infiltration trenches designed on the sides of the roads in town. Infiltration trenches can be used
on the many horse farms found in the area, which have large amounts of runoff originating from
cleared and developed land that an infiltration trench can collect and recharge into the
groundwater table. Aiken also has a golf course in the city that could benefit from redirecting
stormwater runoff to infiltration trenches and provide a large area for groundwater recharge.
There are a lot of dirt roads that run through parks and around Sand River, as well as in
new construction zones that could also be utilized as recharge mechanisms. Permeable soils or
permeable concrete pavers could be used here to control the amount of runoff produced by
cleared land. Aiken has been in the process of building new homes in the suburbs and has done
a lot of mass cutting of trees to prepare the ground for construction. So to allow for some
infiltration, permeable driveways are something that could help the recharge the groundwater
table. Also narrower roads in these suburban areas to allow for roadside bioretention areas to
be used may be beneficial in the process of building new homes and neighborhoods.

Urban Retrofits
Large areas of impervious surfaces are what need to be avoided, so a strong candidate
would be the retrofits in regards to parking lots. What this does is utilize existing islands in
parking lots so that bioretention cells or filter strips can be added. These cells are good for
catching runoff or rooftop downspouts during rainfall periods. Aiken has a good bit of churches
within the city limits that may be more likely to be open to retrofitting their landscaping and
adding rain gardens. The church can use the rain gardens to add aesthetic appeal to their
landscaping and rain is allowed to infiltrate to the groundwater table. However, it is necessary to
take into consideration the amount of groundwater mounding that may occur underneath these
rain gardens and ensure they are appropriately spaced from any existing or future cemeteries.
Retrofits can also be considered for areas such as convenience stores or other urban
commercial buildings that have comparably-sized parking lots, as well as the plentiful vegetated
medians in Aiken’s downtown streets. Aiken, being a planned city, is laid out in a grid of one-way
streets in most of the downtown area, creating many regularly-occurring rectangular vegetated
medians that are suitable for rain gardens.

Table 2. Rain garden sizing for typical vegetated median in downtown Aiken

Table 3. Rain garden sizing for typical church parking lot (ex. St. John’s Church, Aiken,
Permeable Pavement
As mentioned before, Aiken has done a lot of mass grading in order to build new
suburbs and homes for people to live in. As a result, most of the soils that are naturally found
there are removed for the preparation of new lots. Permeable driveways could help provide
infiltration in those areas where there was mass grading and clearing of trees. One
neighborhood that is in the process of being built and developed off of Pine Log Road in Aiken
has cleared the area of trees and brought in new soils to grade with, as is typical of “high-impact
development”. The land there is still relatively well drained for the most part because of installed
stormwater drains, and all these homes have driveways. Permeable paved driveways may be
effective measures to help control runoff as well as provide filtration for stormwater, and provide
a viable alternative to traditional stormwater systems that disrupt natural hydrology. Essentially
this type of paved driveway is cleaning the stormwater and allowing for good quality water to
infiltrate back into the groundwater table. It’s beneficial to the homeowners because they
receive a beautifully designed driveway that is eco-friendly. These should be installed in newly
designed suburb housing areas as well as sidewalks that go through the neighborhood.

Figure 6. Permeable pavement sizing for typical residential driveways.
Residential Rain Gardens
A lot of the neighborhoods in Aiken have good receptive soils, so a good way to help
water infiltrate back into the groundwater table is constructing a mini bioretention cell or rain
garden. An ideal setup would be the backyard or frontyard, depending on the residence, and
the garden would at the downstream end of the runoff from the rooftop or the downspout from a
rooftop drain. A thick layer of mulch can be used as a filtration tool so that by time the water
gets to the garden most of the suspended solids and pollutants are filtered out of the water.
Citizens would be doing their part by participating and it is beneficial to them because they are
decorating around the house in a cost-efficient manner. The most ideal locations to put these
rain gardens are in the backyards of newly developed homes or suburbs, but can be used to
retrofit existing neighborhoods and residences as well. These bioretention cells have a positive
effect on the land as they improve the appearance and habitat of the surrounding area. As
mentioned before, the new neighborhood over off of Pine Log Road would be a great place to
start this as well as the apartment complexes off of the US-78 in Aiken. Small changes like this
could prove to be vital in helping recharge the groundwater table.
Table 4. Rain garden sizing for typical ⅓ acre residential lots.

Table 5. Properties of Loamy Sand.
Texture Porosity Residual Effective Suction Conductivity Rain Before
Porosity Porosity Head, ψf Ponding, Fp

Loamy Sand 0.437 0.036 0.401 6.13 2.99 1.22

Effective Fillable ψDϴ Rain i (cm/hr) i (in/hr) Ponding Time,
Saturation, Porosity, Duration tp (hrs)
Se Dϴ (hrs)

0.500 0.201 1.229 3.00 6.00 2.36 0.20

Table 6. Properties of Sandy Clay.
Texture Porosity Residual Effective Suction Conductivity Rain Before
Porosity Porosity Head, ψf Ponding, Fp

Sandy Clay 0.398 0.068 0.33 21.85 0.15 0.09

Effective Fillable ψDϴ Rain i (cm/hr) i (in/hr) Ponding Time,
Saturation, Porosity, Duration tp (hrs)
Se Dϴ (hrs)
0.500 0.165 3.605 3.00 6.00 2.36 0.02

Recent purchases, such as that of the Aiken Mall, brings about a sense of change under
new management. With a new owner in place, it may be an opportune time to retrofit the lot of
the mall to make room for filter strips and bioretention cells to help filter and recharge the
groundwater. Also, it may be of interest to use porous pavement to also assist in runoff control
and infiltration. By looking at the soils classification of the town of Aiken, most of the soil is a
loamy sand soil in the downtown areas of Aiken, which typically drains well. With that in mind,
the retrofits to lots such as the mall could prove to be an effective measure in helping the
groundwater table. Also, infiltration trenches along the major highways such US-78 could be
another good location for LIDs as that area consists of mostly loamy sand. Church parking lots
in downtown Aiken are also good locations to install bioretention cells and vegetated filter strips,
and could be a decorative and beneficial way of improving the appearance and habitat of the
area. The effects of these low-impact development best management practices combined will
help to mitigate dropping groundwater levels in Aiken and recharge the local water table.

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