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Drainage infrastructure and groundwater system response to changes in sea level and precipitation, Broward County, Florida

September 28, 2022

Executive Summary

Southeast Florida is highly susceptible to flooding because of its low topography and porous, highly permeable Biscayne aquifer. Rising seas will likely result in increased groundwater levels in parts of Broward County, Florida, that will reduce available soil storage and therefore increase the likelihood of inundation and flooding from precipitation events. Moreover, rising seas may also reduce the capacity of the coastal water-control structures to discharge inland waters to tidal areas, thereby increasing surface-water stage and nearby groundwater levels. Increased rainfall intensity will likely further increase peak surface-water stages and groundwater levels, more quickly fill the reduced soil storage capacity, and increase the likelihood for inundation. Managers and planners in Broward County, Florida, face the challenge of understanding and preparing for the consequent risk to residents, businesses, and critical infrastructure posed by increased sea level and precipitation.

The U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Broward County Environmental Planning and Resilience Division, has developed a groundwater/surface-water model to evaluate the response of the drainage infrastructure and groundwater system in Broward County to projected increases in sea level and potential changes in precipitation. The model was constructed using Modular Finite-Difference Groundwater Flow Model Newton formulation, with the surface-water system represented using the Surface-Water Routing process and the Urban Runoff process. The aquifer layering and flow parameters rely heavily on existing hydrologic flow models developed by the U.S. Geological Survey for the same model area. The surface-water drainage system within this newly developed model actively simulates the extensive canal network using level-pool routing and active structures representing gates, weirs, culverts, and pumps. Steady-state and transient simulation results represented historical conditions (2013–17). The simulated historical groundwater levels and upstream stage and flow at the primary structures generally captured the behavior of the actual hydrologic system. Simulation results incorporating increased sea level and precipitation were used to evaluate the effects of these projected changes on the surface-water drainage system and wet season groundwater levels.

Four future sea-level scenarios were simulated by modifying the historical inputs for both steady-state and the transient versions of the model to represent mean sea levels of 0.5, 2.0, 2.5, and 3.0 feet (ft) above the North American Vertical Datum of 1988. These mean sea levels correspond to sea-level rises of 1.05, 2.55, 3.05, and 3.55 ft, respectively, above the 2013–17 mean measured tidal stage. Additional simulations represented a 15-percent increase in rainfall rates using the transient model and a 15-percent increase in rainfall recharge using the steady-state model. The simulated results indicated that (1) the effects of increased sea level were more evident in the easternmost, coastal areas of the county where increases in groundwater levels are nearly equivalent to sea-level rise; (2) groundwater levels west of the coastal water-control structures only changed slightly in response to increased sea level for most scenarios; (3) when the control elevations of the gravity-controlled coastal water-control structures were surpassed by sea-level rise, the resulting increases in upstream stage in the connected primary canal resulted in increased groundwater levels that can propagate into the western parts of the county; (4) the historical west-to-east downward gradient in groundwater levels decreased with increased sea level, and groundwater levels were lower in central parts of the county than areas west and east for the higher sea-level scenarios; (5) simulated upstream stage for most of the primary coastal water-control structures increased with increased sea level, with the largest increases occurring at gravity-controlled structures having the lowest control elevations; (6) total flow through the primary structures increased as sea level increased because of additional groundwater leakage into the surface-water network; (7) the 3.0-ft mean sea-level rise scenario resulted in an increase of 37.10 square miles in area having a wet season average depth to groundwater of less than 2 ft, and an increase of 22.84 square miles in newly inundated areas compared to historical simulation results; and (8) a 15-percent increase in rainfall rate for the entire simulation period produced little increase in upstream stages at the primary structures and an increase in total flow through the primary structures proportional to the increase in rainfall.

Publication Year 2022
Title Drainage infrastructure and groundwater system response to changes in sea level and precipitation, Broward County, Florida
DOI 10.3133/sir20225074
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2022-5074
Index ID sir20225074
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Caribbean-Florida Water Science Center