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Hydrology and water quality of lakes and streams in Orange County, Florida

October 6, 2005

Orange County, Florida, is continuing to experience a large growth in population. In 1920, the population of Orange County was less than 20,000; in 2000, the population was about 896,000. The amount of urban area around Orlando has increased considerably, especially in the northwest part of the County. The eastern one-third of the County, however, had relatively little increase in urbanization from 1977-97. The increase of population, tourism, and industry in Orange County and nearby areas changed land use; land that was once agricultural has become urban, industrial, and major recreation areas. These changes could impact surface-water resources that are important for wildlife habitat, for esthetic reasons, and potentially for public supply. Streamflow characteristics and water quality could be affected in various ways.

As a result of changing land use, changes in the hydrology and water quality of Orange County's lakes and streams could occur. Median runoff in 10 selected Orange County streams ranges from about 20 inches per year (in/yr) in the Wekiva River to about 1.1 in/yr in Cypress Creek. The runoff for the Wekiva River is significantly higher than other river basins because of the relatively constant spring discharge that sustains streamflow, even during drought conditions. The low runoff for the Cypress Creek basin results from a lack of sustained inflow from ground water and a relatively large area of lakes within the drainage basin.

Streamflow characteristics for 13 stations were computed on an annual basis and examined for temporal trends. Results of the trend testing indicate changes in annual mean streamflow, 1-day high streamflow, or 7-day low streamflow at 8 of the 13 stations. However, changes in 7-day low streamflow are more common than changes in annual mean or 1-day high streamflow.

There is probably no single reason for the changes in 7-day low streamflows, and for most streams, it is difficult to determine definite reasons for the flow increases. Low flows in the Econlockhatchee River at Chuluota have increased because of discharge of treated wastewater since 1982. However, trends in increasing 7-day low streamflow are evident before 1982, which cannot be attributed to wastewater discharge.

Some of the increases in 7-day low flows may be related to drainage changes resulting from increased development in Orange County. Development for most purposes, including those as diverse as cattle grazing and residential construction, may involve modification of surface drainage through stream channelization and construction of canals. These changes in land drainage can lower the water table, resulting in reductions of regional evapotranspiration rates and increased streamflow. Another possible cause of increasing low flows in streams is use of water from the Floridan aquifer system for irrigation. Runoff of irrigation water or increased seepage from irrigated areas to streams could increase base streamflow compared to natural conditions.

Water-level data were analyzed to determine temporal trends from 83 lakes that had more than 15 years of record. There were significant temporal trends in 33 of the 83 lakes (40 percent) over the entire period of record. Of these 33 lakes, 14 had increasing water levels and 19 lakes had decreasing water levels. The downward trends in long-term lake levels could in part be due to high rainfall accumulation in 1960-1961, which included precipitation from Hurricane Donna (September 1960). The high rainfall resulted in historical high-water levels in many lakes in 1960 or 1961.

A large range of water-quality conditions exists in lakes and streams of Orange County (2000-01). Specific conductance in lake samples ranged from 57 to 1,185 microsiemens per centimeter. Values of pH ranged from 3.2 to 8.7 in stream samples and 4.6 to 9.6 in lake samples. Total nitrogen concentrations ranged from less than 0.2 to 7.1 milligrams per liter (mg/L) as nitrogen in stream samples, and

Citation Information

Publication Year 2005
Title Hydrology and water quality of lakes and streams in Orange County, Florida
DOI 10.3133/sir20055052
Authors Edward R. German, James C. Adamski
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2005-5052
Index ID sir20055052
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization