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Surface-Water and Ground-Water Interactions in the Central Everglades, Florida

October 13, 2021

Recharge and discharge are hydrological processes that cause Everglades surface water to be exchanged for subsurface water in the peat soil and the underlying sand and limestone aquifer. These interactions are thought to be important to water budgets, water quality, and ecology in the Everglades. Nonetheless, relatively few studies of surface water and ground water interactions have been conducted in the Everglades, especially in its vast interior areas. This report is a product of a cooperative investigation conducted by the USGS and the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) aimed at developing and testing techniques that would provide reliable estimates of recharge and discharge in interior areas of WCA-2A (Water Conservation Area 2A) and several other sites in the central Everglades. The new techniques quantified flow from surface water to the subsurface (recharge) and the opposite (discharge) using (1) Darcy-flux calculations based on measured vertical gradients in hydraulic head and hydraulic conductivity of peat; (2) modeling transport through peat and decay of the naturally occurring isotopes 224Ra and 223Ra (with half-lives of 4 and 11 days, respectively); and (3) modeling transport and decay of naturally occurring and "bomb-pulse" tritium (half-life of 12.4 years) in ground water. Advantages and disadvantages of each method for quantifying recharge and discharge were compared. In addition, spatial and temporal variability of recharge and discharge were evaluated and controlling factors identified. A final goal was to develop appropriately simplified (that is, time averaged) expressions of the results that will be useful in addressing a broad range of hydrological and ecological problems in the Everglades. Results were compared with existing information about water budgets from the South Florida Water Management Model (SFWMM), a principal tool used by the South Florida Water Management District to plan many of the hydrological aspects of the Everglades restoration.

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