The Floridan aquifer system is considered to be a valuable source for agricultural and municipal water supply in Martin and St. Lucie Counties, despite its brackish water. Increased withdrawals, however, could increase salinity and threaten the quality of withdrawn water. The Floridan aquifer system consists of limestone, dolomitic limestone, and dolomite and is divided into three hydrogeologic units: the Upper Floridan aquifer, a middle confining unit, and the Lower Floridan aquifer. An informal geologic unit at the top of the Upper Floridan aquifer, referred to as the basal Hawthorn/Suwannee unit, is bound above by a marker unit in the Hawthorn Group and at its base by the Ocala Limestone; a map of this unit shows an area where substantial eastward thickening begins near the coast. This change in thickness is used to divide the study area into inland and coastal areas.
In the Upper Floridan aquifer, an area of elevated chloride concentration greater than 1,000 milligrams per liter and water temperature greater than 28 degrees Celsius exists in the inland area and trends northwest through north-central Martin County and western St. Lucie County. A structural feature coincides with this area of greater salinity and water temperature; this feature is marked by a previously mapped northwest-trending basement fault and, based on detailed mapping in this study of the structure at the top of the basal Hawthorn/Suwannee unit, an apparent southeast-trending trough. Higher hydraulic head also has been mapped in this northwest-trending area. Another area of high chloride concentration in the Upper Floridan aquifer occurs in the southern part of the coastal area (in eastern Martin County and northeastern Palm Beach County); chloride concentration in this area is more than 2,000 milligrams per liter and is as great as 8,000 milligrams per liter.
A dissolved-solids concentration of less than 10,000 milligrams per liter defines the brackish-water zone in the Floridan aquifer system; the top and base of this zone are present at the top of the aquifer system and within the Lower Floridan aquifer, respectively. The base of the brackish-water zone, which can approximate a brackish-water/saltwater interface, was determined in 13 wells, mostly using resistivity geophysical logs. The depth to the saltwater interface was calculated using the Ghyben-Herzberg approximation and estimated predevelopment hydraulic heads in the Upper Floridan aquifer. In five of six inland area wells, the depth to the base of the brackish-water zone was substantially shallower than the estimated predevelopment interface (260 feet or greater), whereas in five of seven coastal area wells, the difference was not large (less than about 140 feet). Confining units in the inland area, such as dense dolomite, may prevent an interface from forming at its equilibrium position. Because of head decline, the calculated interface using recent (May 2001) water levels is as much as 640 ft above the base of the brackish water zone (in the northern part of the coastal area).
Isotopic data collected during this study, including deuterium and oxygen-18 (18O/16O), the ratio of strontium-87 to strontium-86, and carbon-13 (13C/12C) and carbon-14, provide evidence for differences in the Floridan aquifer system ground-water geochemistry and its evolution between inland and coastal areas. Ground water from the inland area tends to be older than water from the coastal area, particularly where inland area water temperature is elevated. Isotopic data together with an anomalous vertical distribution of salinity in the coastal area indicate that the coastal area was invaded with seawater in relatively recent geologic time, and this water has not been completely flushed out by the modern-day flow system.
Upward leakage from the Lower to Upper Floridan aquifer of high salinity water occurs through structural deformities, such as faults or fracture zones or associated dissolution features in the inland area. An upward trend in salinity is indicated in 16 monitoring wells in the inland area, and agricultural withdrawals are probably causing these increases. Most of these wells are located in areas of elevated Upper Floridan aquifer ground-water temperature. Areas of higher water temperature could represent areas of greater potential for increases in salinity. More detailed mapping of the structure of the uppermost geologic units in the aquifer system could better define areas of deformation. Additionally, high potential exists in much of the study area for upward or lateral movement of the saltwater interface because of large declines in hydraulic head since predevelopment. The northern part of the coastal area has the greatest potential for movement; however, upward movement of the interface in the coastal area could be retarded by low vertical permeability. The potential for upward or lateral movement of the interface in the southern part of the coastal area seems to be low, but structural deformation could be present in northeastern Palm Beach County, allowing for localized upward leakage of saltwater.
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