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Summary of the Hydrology of the Floridan Aquifer System In Florida and In Parts of Georgia, South Carolina, and Alabama

Hydraulic Properties of the Aquifer System
Regional Flow System
Groundwater Development
Groundwater Chemistry
Potential for Future Development
PDF Version

By Richard H. Johnson and Peter W. Bush
Professional Paper 1403-A


The Floridan aquifer system is one of the major sources of ground-water supplies in the United States. This highly productive aquifer system underlies all of Florida, southern Georgia, and small parts of adjoining Alabama and South Carolina, for a total area of about 100,000 square miles. About 3 billion gallons of water per day is withdrawn from the aquifer for all uses, and, in many areas, the Floridan is the sole source of freshwater.

The aquifer system is a sequence of hydraulically connected carbonate rocks (principally limestone and some dolomite) that generally range in age from Late Paleocene to Early Miocene. The rocks vary in thickness from a featheredge where they crop out to more than 3,500 ft where the aquifer is deeply buried. The aquifer system generally consists of an upper aquifer and a lower aquifer, separated by a less permeable confining unit of highly variable properties. In parts of north Florida and southwest Georgia, there is little permeability contrast within the aquifer system. Thus in these areas the Floridan is effectively one continuous aquifer. The upper and lower aquifers are defined on the basis of permeability, and their boundaries locally do not coincide with those for either time-stratigraphic or rock-stratigraphic units.

Low-permeability clastic rocks overlie much of the Floridan aquifer system. The lithology, thickness, and integrity of these low-permeability rocks have a controlling effect on the development of permeability and ground-water flow in the Floridan locally.

The Floridan aquifer system derives its permeability from openings that vary from fossil hashes and networks of many solution-widened joints to large cavernous openings in karst areas. Diffuse flow pre-dominates where the small openings occur, whereas conduit flow may occur where there are large cavernous openings. For the Upper Floridan aquifer, transmissivities are highest (greater than 1,000,000 ft squared per day) in the unconfined karst areas of central and northern Florida. Lowest transmissivities (less than 50,000 ft squared per day) occur in the Florida panhandle and southernmost Florida, where the Upper Floridan aquifer is confined by thick clay sections. The hydraulic properties of the Lower Floridan aquifer are not well known; however, this unit also contains intervals of very high transmissivity that have been attributed to paleokarst development.

The dominant feature of the Floridan flow system, both before and after ground-water development, is Upper Floridan aquifer springs, nearly all of which occur in unconfined and semiconfined parts of the aquifer in Florida. Before ground-water development, spring flow and point discharge to surface-water bodies was about 88 percent of the estimated 21,500 cubic ft per second total discharge. Current discharge (early 1980's) is about 24,100 cubic ft per second, 75 percent of which is spring flow and discharge to surface-water bodies, 17 percent is withdrawal from wells, and 8 percent is diffuse upward leakage.

Pumpage has been and continues to be supplied primarily by the diversion of natural outflow from the aquifer system and by induced recharge rather than by loss of water from aquifer storage. The approximately 3 billion gallons per day pumped from the Floridan aquifer system has resulted in long-term regional water-level declines of more than 10 ft in three broad areas of the flow system: (1) coastal Georgia and adjacent South Carolina and northeast Florida, (2) west-central Florida, and (3) the Florida panhandle. Saltwater has encroached as a result of pumping in a few coastal areas.

In general, the water chemistry in the Upper Floridan is related to flow and proximity to the freshwater-saltwater interface. In the unconfined or semiconfined areas where flow is vigorous, dissolved-solids concentrations are low (less than 250 milligrams per liter). Where the system is more tightly confined, flow is more sluggish and concentrations are higher (greater than 250 milligrams per liter). Several distinct hydrochemical facies characterize the water chemistry in the Upper Floridan. In the unconfined or semiconfined areas, a calcium-bicarbonate facies is due principally to the dissolution of calcite. In coastal areas or where the system is more tightly confined, mixing of freshwater with recent or residual seawater produces a sodium-chloride facies. In the western Florida panhandle cation exchange has produced a unique occurrence of a sodium-bicarbonate facies in the Upper Floridan.

A considerable area of the Floridan aquifer system's extent remains highly favorable for the development of large ground-water supplies. This area is largely inland and is characterized by high transmissivity and minimal development (as of early 1980's). The major constraint on future development is degradation of water quality rather than water-quantity limitations.

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