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Scientific Investigations Report 2009–5140

Prepared in cooperation with the Southwest Florida Water Management District

Hydrologic Conditions that Influence Streamflow Losses in a Karst Region of the Upper Peace River, Polk County, Florida

By P.A. Metz and B.R. Lewelling

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The upper Peace River from Bartow to Fort Meade, Florida, is described as a groundwater recharge area, reflecting a reversal from historical groundwater discharge patterns that existed prior to the 1950s. The upper Peace River channel and floodplain are characterized by extensive karst development, with numerous fractures, crevasses, and sinks that have been eroded in the near-surface and underlying carbonate bedrock. With the reversal in groundwater head gradients, river water is lost to the underlying groundwater system through these karst features. An investigation was conducted to evaluate the hydrologic conditions that influence streamflow losses in the karst region of the upper Peace River.

The upper Peace River is located in a basin that has been altered substantially by phosphate mining and increases in groundwater use. These alterations have changed groundwater flow patterns and caused streamflow declines through time. Hydrologic factors that have had the greatest influence on streamflow declines in the upper Peace River include the lowering of the potentiometric surfaces of the intermediate aquifer system and Upper Floridan aquifer beneath the riverbed elevation due to below-average rainfall (droughts), increases in groundwater use, and the presence of numerous karst features in the low-water channel and floodplain that enhance the loss of streamflow.

Seepage runs conducted along the upper Peace River, from Bartow to Fort Meade, indicate that the greatest streamflow losses occurred along an approximate 2-mile section of the river beginning about 1 mile south of the Peace River at Bartow gaging station. Along the low-water and floodplain channel of this 2-mile section, there are about 10 prominent karst features that influence streamflow losses. Losses from the individual karst features ranged from 0.22 to 16 cubic feet per second based on measurements made between 2002 and 2007. The largest measured flow loss for all the karst features was about 50 cubic feet per second, or about 32 million gallons per day, on June 28, 2002.

Streamflow losses varied throughout the year, and were related to seasonal fluctuations in groundwater levels. When groundwater levels were at their lowest level at the end of the dry season (May and June), there was an increased potential for streamflow losses. During this study, the largest streamflow losses occurred at the beginning of the summer rainy season when discharge in the river increased and large volumes of water were needed to replenish unfilled cavities and void spaces in the underlying aquifers.

The underlying geology along the upper Peace River and floodplain is highly karstified, and aids in the movement and amount of streamflow that is lost to the groundwater system in this region. Numerous karst features and fractured carbonates and cavernous zones observed in geologic cores and geophysical logs indicate an active, well-connected, groundwater flow system. Aquifer and dye tests conducted along the upper Peace River indicate the presence of cavernous and highly transmissive layers within the floodplain area that can store and transport large volumes of water in underground cavities. A discharge measurement made during this study indicates that the cavernous system associated with Dover Sink can accept over 10 million gallons per day (16 cubic feet per second) of streamflow before the localized aquifer storage volume is replenished and the level of the sink is stabilized.

Posted September 2009

For additional information contact:
Patty A. Metz
U.S. Geological Survey
Florida Integrated Science Center
Suite 215
10500 University Center Dr.
Tampa, FL 33612-6427
813-975-8620 ext. 129

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Suggested citation:

Metz, P.A., and Lewelling, B.R., 2009, Hydrologic Conditions that Influence Streamflow Losses in a Karst Region of the Upper Peace River, Polk County, Florida: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2009-5140, 82 p.





Purpose and Scope

Methods of Investigation

Previous Investigations

Upper Peace River Basin Characteristics



Land Use


Groundwater Use

Geologic Framework

Geologic Cores

Karst Development


Surficial Aquifer

Intermediate Aquifer System

Upper Floridan Aquifer

Potentiometric Surface

Long-Term Trends in Groundwater Levels


River Channel Characteristics Affecting Upper Peace River Flows

Streamflow Conditions (2002-2007 Water Years)

Discharge-Duration Hydrographs and Curves

Effects of Karst Development on Streamflow Losses

Seepage Investigations

Karst Features along the Upper Peace River

Streamflow Losses to Karst Features

Effects of Groundwater Conditions on Streamflow Losses

Groundwater Flow Patterns Surrounding the Upper Peace River

Flow Patterns Derived from Chemical Constituents and Isotopic Tracers

Influence of Large Karst Features on Flow Patterns and Streamflow Losses

Summary and Conclusions

References Cited

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