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The 2016 groundwater flow model for Dane County, Wisconsin

December 1, 2016

A new groundwater flow model for Dane County, Wisconsin, replaces an earlier model developed in the 1990s by the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey (WGNHS) and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). This modeling study was conducted cooperatively by the WGNHS and the USGS with funding from the Capital Area Regional Planning Commission (CARPC). Although the overall conceptual model of the groundwater system remains largely unchanged, the incorporation of newly acquired high-quality datasets, recent research findings, and improved modeling and calibration techniques have led to the development of a more detailed and sophisticated model representation of the groundwater system. The new model is three-dimensional and transient, and conceptualizes the county’s hydrogeology as a 12-layer system including all major unlithified and bedrock hydrostratigraphic units and two high-conductivity horizontal fracture zones.

Beginning from the surface down, the model represents the unlithified deposits as two distinct model layers (1 and 2). A single layer (3) simulates the Ordovician sandstone and dolomite of the Sinnipee, Ancell, and Prairie du Chien Groups. Sandstone of the Jordan Formation (layer 4) and silty dolostone of the St. Lawrence Formation (layer 5) each comprise separate model layers. The underlying glauconitic sandstone of the Tunnel City Group makes up three distinct layers: an upper aquifer (layer 6), a fracture feature (layer 7), and a lower aquifer (layer 8). The fracture layer represents a network of horizontal bedding-plane fractures that serve as a preferential pathway for groundwater flow. The model simulates the sandstone of the Wonewoc Formation as an upper aquifer (layer 9) with a bedding-plane fracture feature (layer 10) at its base. The Eau Claire aquitard (layer 11) includes shale beds within the upper portion of the Eau Claire Formation. This layer, along with overlying bedrock units, is mostly absent in the preglacially eroded valleys along the Yahara River valley and in northeastern Dane County. Layer 12 represents the Mount Simon sandstone as the lowermost model layer. It directly overlies the Precambrian crystalline basement rock, whose top surface forms the lower boundary of the model.

The model uses the USGS MODFLOW-NWT finite-difference code, a standalone version of MODFLOW-2005 that incorporates the Newton (NWT) solver. MODFLOW-NWT improves the handling of unconfined conditions by smoothing the transition from wet to dry cells. The model explicitly simulates groundwater–surface-water interaction with streamflow routing and lake-level fluctuation. Model input included published and unpublished hydrogeologic data from recent estimates of aquifer hydraulic conductivities. A spatial groundwater recharge distribution was obtained from a recent GIS-based, soil-water-balance model for Dane County. Groundwater withdrawals from pumping were simulated for 572 wells across the entire model domain, which includes Dane County and portions of seven neighboring counties—Columbia, Dodge, Green, Iowa, Jefferson, Lafayette, and Rock. These wells withdrew an average of 60 million gallons per day (mgd) over the 5-year period from 2006 through 2010. Within Dane County, 385 wells were simulated with an average withdrawal rate of 52 mgd.

Model calibration used the parameter estimation code PEST, and calibration targets included heads, stream and spring flows, lake levels, and borehole flows. Steady-state calibration focused on the period 2006 through 2010; the transient calibration focused on the 7-week drought period from late May through July 2012.

This model represents a significant step forward from previous work because of its finer grid resolution, improved hydrostratigraphic discretization, transient capabilities, and more sophisticated representation of surface-water features and multi-aquifer wells.

Potential applications of the model include evaluation of potential sites for and impacts of new high-capacity wells, development of wellhead protection plans, evaluating the effects of changing land use and climate on groundwater, and quantifying the relationships between groundwater and surface water.

Publication Year 2016
Title The 2016 groundwater flow model for Dane County, Wisconsin
Authors Michael J. Parsen, Kenneth R. Bradbury, Randall J. Hunt, Daniel T. Feinstein
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype Other Government Series
Series Title Bulletin
Series Number 110
Index ID 70178358
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Wisconsin Water Science Center