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Potential effects of alterations to the hydrologic system on the distribution of salinity in the Biscayne aquifer in Broward County, Florida

March 15, 2016

To address concerns about the effects of water-resource management practices and rising sea level on saltwater intrusion, the U.S. Geological Survey in cooperation with the Broward County Environmental Planning and Community Resilience Division, initiated a study to examine causes of saltwater intrusion and predict the effects of future alterations to the hydrologic system on salinity distribution in eastern Broward County, Florida. A three-dimensional, variable-density solute-transport model was calibrated to conditions from 1970 to 2012, the period for which data are most complete and reliable, and was used to simulate historical conditions from 1950 to 2012. These types of models are typically difficult to calibrate by matching to observed groundwater salinities because of spatial variability in aquifer properties that are unknown, and natural and anthropogenic processes that are complex and unknown; therefore, the primary goal was to reproduce major trends and locally generalized distributions of salinity in the Biscayne aquifer. The methods used in this study are relatively new, and results will provide transferable techniques for protecting groundwater resources and maximizing groundwater availability in coastal areas. The model was used to (1) evaluate the sensitivity of the salinity distribution in groundwater to sea-level rise and groundwater pumping, and (2) simulate the potential effects of increases in pumping, variable rates of sea-level rise, movement of a salinity control structure, and use of drainage recharge wells on the future distribution of salinity in the aquifer.

Results from the simulation of historical conditions indicate that the model generally represents the observed greater westward extent of elevated salinity in the central part of the intruded area relative to the northern and southernmost parts of the intruded area. Results of sensitivity testing indicate that the extent of elevated salinity is most sensitive to pumping in areas where the source of saltwater is largely offshore, from the Atlantic Ocean, and is most sensitive to sea-level rise in areas where the source of salinity is downward leakage of brackish water from canals.

Simulations of future scenarios indicate that increases in pumping near the existing interface may cause the interface to advance and decreases in pumping may cause it to retreat. Climatic effects, such as periods of prolonged drought or high precipitation, may augment or counteract long-term effects of changes in pumping on aquifer salinity at well fields. With increasing rates of sea-level rise, the freshwater-saltwater interface advances progressively inland, and flow-averaged salinities at well fields near the existing interface increase commensurately. Hypothetical southeastward (downstream) re-positioning of the existing G–54 salinity-control structure may prevent the interface from moving northwestward along and near the North New River canal, but beneficial effects are localized. Implementation of freshwater recharge wells in the city of Hallandale Beach may also have only a localized freshening effect in the aquifer and little appreciable effect on the freshwater-saltwater interface or on concentrations of salinity at well fields.

Model accuracy and use are limited by uncertainty in the physical properties and boundary conditions of the system, uncertainty in historical and future conditions, and generalizations made in the mathematical relationships used to describe the physical processes of groundwater flow and transport. Because of these limitations, model results should be considered in relative rather than absolute terms. Nonetheless, model results do provide useful information on the relative scale of response of the system to changes in pumping distribution, sea-level rise, and mitigation activities.

Publication Year 2016
Title Potential effects of alterations to the hydrologic system on the distribution of salinity in the Biscayne aquifer in Broward County, Florida
DOI 10.3133/sir20165022
Authors Joseph D. Hughes, Dorothy F. Sifuentes, Jeremy T. White
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2016-5022
Index ID sir20165022
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization FLWSC-Ft. Lauderdale