Discharge, water temperature, and water quality of Warm Mineral Springs, Sarasota County, Florida: A retrospective analysis

Open-File Report 2016-1166
Prepared in cooperation with the City of North Port and Sarasota County



Warm Mineral Springs, located in southern Sarasota County, Florida, is a warm, highly mineralized, inland spring. Since 1946, a bathing spa has been in operation at the spring, attracting vacationers and health enthusiasts. During the winter months, the warm water attracts manatees to the adjoining spring run and provides vital habitat for these mammals. Well-preserved late Pleistocene to early Holocene-age human and animal bones, artifacts, and plant remains have been found in and around the spring, and indicate the surrounding sinkhole formed more than 12,000 years ago. The spring is a multiuse resource of hydrologic importance, ecological and archeological significance, and economic value to the community.

The pool of Warm Mineral Springs has a circular shape that reflects its origin as a sinkhole. The pool measures about 240 feet in diameter at the surface and has a maximum depth of about 205 feet. The sinkhole developed in the sand, clay, and dolostone of the Arcadia Formation of the Miocene-age to Oligocene-age Hawthorn Group. Underlying the Hawthorn Group are Oligocene-age to Eocene-age limestones and dolostones, including the Suwannee Limestone, Ocala Limestone, and Avon Park Formation. Mineralized groundwater, under artesian pressure in the underlying aquifers, fills the remnant sink, and the overflow discharges into Warm Mineral Springs Creek, to Salt Creek, and subsequently into the Myakka River. Aquifers described in the vicinity of Warm Mineral Springs include the surficial aquifer system, the intermediate aquifer system within the Hawthorn Group, and the Upper Floridan aquifer in the Suwannee Limestone, Ocala Limestone, and Avon Park Formation. The Hawthorn Group acts as an upper confining unit of the Upper Floridan aquifer.

Groundwater flow paths are inferred from the configuration of the potentiometric surface of the Upper Floridan aquifer for September 2010. Groundwater flow models indicate the downward flow of water into the Upper Floridan aquifer in inland areas, and upward flow toward the surface in coastal areas, such as at Warm Mineral Springs. Warm Mineral Springs is located in a discharge area. Changes in water use in the region have affected the potentiometric surface of the Upper Floridan aquifer. Historical increase in groundwater withdrawals resulted in a 10- to 20-foot regional decline in the potentiometric surface of the Upper Floridan aquifer by May 1975 relative to predevelopment levels and remained at approximately that level in May 2007 in the area of Warm Mineral Springs. Discharge measurements at Warm Mineral Springs (1942–2014) decreased from about 11–12 cubic feet per second in the 1940s to about 6–9 cubic feet per second in the 1970s and remained at about that level for the remainder of the period of record. Similarity of changes in regional water use and discharge at Warm Mineral Springs indicates that basin-scale changes to the groundwater system have affected discharge at Warm Mineral Springs. Water temperature had no significant trend in temperature over the period of record, 1943–2015, and outliers were identified in the data that might indicate inconsistencies in measurement methods or locations.

Within the regional groundwater basin, Warm Mineral Springs is influenced by deep Upper Floridan aquifer flow paths that discharge toward the coast. Associated with these flow paths, the groundwater temperatures increase with depth and toward the coast. Multiple lines of evidence indicate that a source of warm groundwater to Warm Mineral Springs is likely the permeable zone of the Avon Park Formation within the Upper Floridan aquifer at a depth of about 1,400 to 1,600 feet, or deeper sources. The permeable zone contains saline groundwater with water temperatures of at least 95 degrees Fahrenheit.

The water quality of Warm Mineral Springs, when compared with other springs in Florida had the highest temperature and the greatest mineralized content. Warm Mineral Springs water is characterized by a slight-green color, with varying water clarity, low dissolved oxygen (indicative of deep groundwater), and a hydrogen sulfide odor. Water-quality samples detected ammonium-nitrogen and nitrates, but at low concentrations. The drinking water standard for nitrate adopted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is 10 milligrams per liter, measured as nitrogen. Water samples collected at spring vents by divers on April 29, 2015, had concentrations of 0.9 milligram per liter nitrate-nitrogen at vent A and 0.04–0.05 milligram per liter at vents B, C, and D. Typically, the water clarity is highest in the morning (about 30 feet Secchi depth) and often decreases throughout the day.

Analysis of existing data provided some insight into the hydrologic processes affecting Warm Mineral Springs; however, data have been sparsely and discontinuously collected since the 1940s. Continuous monitoring of hydrologic characteristics such as discharge, water temperature, specific conductance, and water-quality indicators, such as nitrate and turbidity (water clarity), would be valuable for monitoring and development of models of spring discharge and water quality. In addition, water samples could be analyzed for isotopic tracers, such as strontium, and the results used to identify and quantify the sources of groundwater that discharge at Warm Mineral Springs. Groundwater flow/transport models could be used to evaluate the sensitivity of the quality and quantity of water flowing from Warm Mineral Springs to changes in climate, aquifer levels, and water use.

Suggested Citation

Metz, P.A., 2016, Discharge, water temperature, and water quality of Warm Mineral Springs, Sarasota County, Florida: A retrospective analysis: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2016–1166, 31 p., http://dx.doi.org/10.3133/ofr20161166.

ISSN: 2331-1258 (online)

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Methods of Investigation
  • Retrospective Analysis
  • Discussion
  • Summary
  • References Cited
Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Discharge, water temperature, and water quality of Warm Mineral Springs, Sarasota County, Florida: A retrospective analysis
Series title Open-File Report
Series number 2016-1166
DOI 10.3133/ofr20161166
Year Published 2016
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) FLWSC-Tampa
Description vi, 31 p.
Country United States
State Florida
County Sarasota County
Other Geospatial Warm Mineral Springs
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details