Ground Water and Surface Water A Single Resource--USGS Circular 1139
The Effect of Ground-Water Withdrawals on Surface Water
Withdrawing water from shallow aquifers that are directly connected to surface-water bodies can have a significant effect on the movement of water between these two water bodies. The effects of pumping a single well or a small group of wells on the hydrologic regime are local in scale. However, the effects of many wells withdrawing water from an aquifer over large areas may be regional in scale.
Withdrawing water from shallow aquifers for public and domestic water supply, irrigation, and industrial uses is widespread. Withdrawing water from shallow aquifers near surface-water bodies can diminish the available surface-water supply by capturing some of the ground-water flow that otherwise would have discharged to surface water or by inducing flow from surface water into the surrounding aquifer system. An analysis of the sources of water to a pumping well in a shallow aquifer that discharges to a stream is provided here to gain insight into how a pumping well can change the quantity and direction of flow between the shallow aquifer and the stream. Furthermore, changes in the direction of flow between the two water bodies can affect transport of contaminants associated with the moving water. Although a stream is used in the example, the results apply to all surface-water bodies, including lakes and wetlands.
A ground-water system under predevelopment conditions is in a state of dynamic equilibrium-for example, recharge at the water table is equal to ground-water discharge to a stream (Figure C-1A). Assume a well is installed and is pumped continually at a rate, Q1. After a new state of dynamic equilibrium is achieved, inflow to the ground-water system from recharge will equal outflow to the stream plus the withdrawal from the well. In this new equilibrium, some of the ground water that would have discharged to the stream is intercepted by the well, and a ground-water divide, which is a line separating directions of flow, is established locally between the well and the stream (Figure C-1B). If the well is pumped at a higher rate, Q2, at a later time a new equilibrium is reached. Under this condition, the ground-water divide between the well and the stream is no longer present and withdrawals from the well induce movement of water from the stream into the aquifer (Figure C-1C). Thus, pumpage reverses the hydrologic condition of the stream in this reach from a ground-water discharge feature to a ground-water recharge feature.
In the hydrologic system depicted in Figures C-1A and C-1B, the quality of the stream water generally will have little effect on the quality of the shallow ground water. However, in the case of the well pumping at the higher rate, Q2 (Figure C-1C), the quality of the stream water, which locally recharges the shallow aquifer, can affect the quality of ground water between the well and the stream as well as the quality of the ground water withdrawn from the well.
This hypothetical withdrawal of water from a shallow aquifer that discharges to a nearby surface-water body is a simplified but compelling illustration of the concept that ground water and surface water are one resource. In the long term, the quantity of ground water withdrawn is approximately equal to the reduction in streamflow that is potentially available to downstream users.