The Corning Aquifer

Stephanie Trump

Where the Corning Aquifer?

Figure 1 Map showing the location of the Corning Aquifer and the regional extent of it, (Olcott, 1995)

The Corning aquifer is located in Steuben County in western New York. It is located in valleys at the junction of four rivers, the Chemung, the Canisteo, the Tioga, and the Cohocton River. Located in these valleys are the city of Corning, and the towns of Addison, Painted Post, Riverside, and South Corning. A map of the area and the extent of the aquifer can be seen in Figure 1 (USGS, 1995.)
The Corning Aquifer covers about 28 square miles. The valleys it occupies are about 0.5 to one mile wide (Olcott, 1995).

So, where does the aquifer get its water?

Figure 2 Diagram showing the general direction of flow, (Olcott, 1995)

The general direction of flow of the water in the aquifer is generally down valley (Figure 2). The sand and gravel deposits of the Corning aquifer are unconfined and saturated to the level of the streams that go across them. In most places, it is saturated almost to the surface. Some of the recharge is by infiltration of precipitation, but about 50% of the precipitation that falls on the area is returned to the atmosphere by evapotranspiration. Recharge also takes place by inflow trom the bedrock and by downvalley movement of water through the aquifer. Sixty percent of the recharge of the recharge to the Corning Aquifer is from runoff of precipitation from the surrounding hills that are underlain by low permeability till and bedrock. Unchanneled runoff recharges the aquifer by direct infiltration at the valley wall. This can be seen in Figure 3 (Olcott, 1995.)

Figure 3 Diagram showing one source of recharge, runoff (USGS, 1995)

The average amount of rainfall measured between the years 1951-1980 across the northeastern United States, can be seen in Figure 4 below (Olcott, 1995.)

Figure 4 Map showing amount of precipitation in the northeastern United States (Olcott, 1995)
Red Circle around Steuben County added by Stephanie Trump

What kinds of rocks and soils are found in the aquifer?

Figure 5 Photo of the valley walls surrounding the aquifer (Olcott, 1995)

The Corning aquifer is located in the Appalachian Plateaus Province of New York. The bedrock underlying it is flat-lying shale, limestone, siltstone, and sandstone. The sandstone was deeply eroded by preglacial drainage. The preglacial erosion was further enhanced when glaciers scoured the area. These glaciers broadened and deepened the valleys and rounded the hill tops. Till was deposited in a thin layer on the tops of the hills and valley walls when the glaciers advanced. Some of the till was eroded, the sediments filling the valleys. Since the last retreat of the ice, the rivers have eroded and redeposited some of the glacial till, resulting in the outwash and alluvial sand and gravel covering the floor of the main river and the tributary valleys. The valley walls along much of the Canisteo and Chemung Rivers are lined with till (Figure 5.) Bedrock forms the valley walls along much of the Cohocton River (Olcott, 1995.) The geology of the aquifer can be seen in Figures 6-8.

Figure 6 Schematic diagram of cross section of an aquifer formed by glacial fill (USGS, 1995)

Figure 7 Surficial geology of the Corning aquifer (Olcott, 1995)

Figure 8 Two cross sections of the Corning aquifer (Olcott, 1995)

For what purposes is this water being used?

Figure 9 Pie chart showing the allotment of groundwater for various purposes, (Olcott, 1995)

The Corning aquifer is the main source of drinking water for many people who live in the area. The largest user of water from the Corning aquifer is the glass industry in Corning (Figure 9.) There are many wells throughout the area that tap into this aquifer. The yield of the wells ranges from 50 to 1000 gallons per minute. The yields can be seen in Figure 10 below (Olcott, 1995.)

Figure 10 Map showing the estimated yield to wells that are withdrawing water from the Corning aquifer (Olcott, 1995)

In 1985 withdrawls from the aquifer totaled about sixteen million gallons per day to supply the industries of the area and 31,000 people that were estimated to reside there. Industrial, mining, and thermoelectric power accounted for about 51% of the total use. The public supply for the cities and towns accounted for about 44% of total use of groundwater, and the remaining 5% was used for domestic and commercial purposes (Olcott, 1995). In Figure 11 below, one can seen how much water was used from the aquifer, and by whom.

Figure 11 Table showing how much water was used and by whom, (Olcott, 1995)

Are there any threats to this aquifer?

The average total dissolved solids (TDS) taken from five samples was about 212 miligrams per liter and ranged from 146 mg per liter to 282 miligrams per liter. Calicium magnesium bicarbonate ions account for about 77% of dissolved ions. The pH of the water is over 7, and the groundwater is very hard. In some areas, there are also large quantities of iron and magnesium dissolved in the water (Olcott, 1995) A pie chart showning the amounts of various dissolved solids in the groundwater can be seen in Figure 12 below.

Figure 12 Pie chart showing the relative amounts of various solids found in the ground water, (Olcott, 1995)

In 2003, a study was conducted of aquifers in the Chemung River Basin, including the Corning aquifer. Samples were taken from 24 public-supply wells and 13 private-use wells, totalling 39 samples, because two wells were tested twice. The pH values of these samples ranged from 7.2-9.0 (Hetcher-Aguila, 2004.) The amounts of dissolved ions, pesticides, and various other things found can be seen in Figures 13-15.

Figure 13 A table showing concentrations of various nutrients found in groundwater samples, (Hetcher-Aguila, 2004)

Figure 14a A table showing concentrations of pesticides found in samples taken from the Chemung River Basin, (Hetcher-Aguila, 2004)

Figure 14b Table showing concentrations of pesticides, continued, (Hetcher-Aguila, 2004)

Figure 15 Table showing concentrations of volatile organic compounds found in the samples taken from the Corning area, (Hetcher-Aguila, 2004)

Of the 39 samples, only 12 were tested for the e. coli bacteria. Of those twelve, six tested positive. Fecal colliform was tested for all the wells. The numbers were reported as bacterial colonies per 100mL. All but six samples showed less than 5 colonies per 100 mL. Of those six, four had levels that were 20 or less. One site in Chemung County, however, showed 600 colonies per 100 mL, and a site in Steuben County showed 530 colonies per 100 mL (Hetcher-Aguila, 2004.)
There are a few superfund sites in Steuben County. One such example is G.E.C. Alstrom Transportation Incorporated located in Hornell, New York. It had been used since about 1900 for railroad car repair and construction. So far from this site, with the exception of lead and hydrocarbons slighly above standards, there has been no contaminents found in groundwater. There have been, however, contaminents found in soil and river sediments. These contaminents could reach the aquifer. Remidiation plans consisted of excavating contaminated soil from both the site and near-by residential areas and disposing of it off-site. These areas were then back-filled with uncontaminated soil. Also, the contaminated soil from where the company's storage tanks were located were also removed and disposed off-site. This was then covered with a six-inch permeable cover of soil, topsoil and seeded. Also, sediment from the storm drains were removed and disposed of in an off-site landfill to try to lessen the exposure pathway to the Canisteo River (EPA, 2003.)

In the town of Corning's zoning laws, there are many ordinances concerning the recharge area. For example, disposal of hazardous materials, petroleum, and radioactive materials is not permitted within the area. Use of septic tank cleaners that contain hazardous materials is prohibited, as is disposing of harmful materials into the septic system. Production of hazardous materials is also not allowed. Open storage containers of pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides is agaist the city's zoning ordinances as well (Town, 1983.) This is important because of the high rate of infiltration of water, and contaminants from the surface into the aquifer. In some places, the infiltration rate is over two inches an hour (Figure 16.) If contaminants were to enter the soil, they could quickly reach the aquifer (Southern, 1997.)

Figure 16 A map showing infiltration rates within the city of Corning, New York, (Southern, 1997)


  • Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).Waste, Region 2, G.E.C. Alstrom Transportation Incorporated, 2003. Accessed April 27, 2009.
  • Hetcher-Aguila, Kari. USGS Ground-Water Quality in the Chemung River Basin, New York, Report number Report number 2004-1329. 2004. Accessed April 29, 2009.
  • Olcot, Perry G. United States Geological Survey (USGS), Groundwater altas of the United States. Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, 1995. Accessed April 20, 2009.
  • Southern Tier Central Regional Planning and Developement Board, Visions for the Town, an Overview, 1997.
  • Town of Corning Zoning Ordinance. September 13, 1983, revised December 13, 2006. Accessed May 4, 2009.