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Scientific Investigations Report 2010–5189

Prepared in cooperation with
Southwest Florida Water Management District

Effect of Groundwater Levels and Headwater Wetlands on Streamflow in the Charlie Creek Basin, Peace River Watershed, West-Central Florida

By T.M. Lee, L.A. Sacks, and J.D. Hughes

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The Charlie Creek basin was studied from April 2004 to December 2005 to better understand how groundwater levels in the underlying aquifers and storage and overflow of water from headwater wetlands preserve the streamflows exiting this least-developed tributary basin of the Peace River watershed. The hydrogeologic framework, physical characteristics, and streamflow were described and quantified for five subbasins of the 330-square mile Charlie Creek basin, allowing the contribution of its headwaters area and tributary subbasins to be separately quantified. A MIKE SHE model simulation of the integrated surface-water and groundwater flow processes in the basin was used to simulate daily streamflow observed over 21 months in 2004 and 2005 at five streamflow stations, and to quantify the monthly and annual water budgets for the five subbasins including the changing amount of water stored in wetlands. Groundwater heads were mapped in Zone 2 of the intermediate aquifer system and in the Upper Floridan aquifer, and were used to interpret the location of artesian head conditions in the Charlie Creek basin and its relation to streamflow. Artesian conditions in the intermediate aquifer system induce upward groundwater flow into the surficial aquifer and help sustain base flow which supplies about two-thirds of the streamflow from the Charlie Creek basin. Seepage measurements confirmed seepage inflow to Charlie Creek during the study period.

The upper half of the basin, comprised largely of the Upper Charlie Creek subbasin, has lower runoff potential than the lower basin, more storage of runoff in wetlands, and periodically generates no streamflow. Artesian head conditions in the intermediate aquifer system were widespread in the upper half of the Charlie Creek basin, preventing downward leakage from expansive areas of wetlands and enabling them to act as headwaters to Charlie Creek once their storage requirements were met. Currently, the dynamic balance between wetland storage, rainfall-runoff processes, and groundwater-level differences in the upper basin allow it to generate approximately half of the streamflow from the Charlie Creek basin. Therefore, future development in the upper basin that would alter the hydraulic connectivity of wetlands during high flow conditions or expand recharging groundwater conditions could substantially affect streamflow in Charlie Creek. LIDAR (Light detection and ranging) based topographic maps and integrated modeling results were used to quantify the water stored in wetlands and other topographic depressions, and to describe the network of shallow stream channels connecting wetlands to Charlie Creek and its tributaries over distances of several thousand feet. Peak flows at all but one streamflow station were underpredicted in MIKE SHE simulations, possibly because the hydraulics of surface channels connecting wetlands to stream channels were not explicitly simulated in the model. Explicitly simulating the smaller channels connecting wetlands and stream channels should improve the ability of future watershed models to simulate peak flows in streams with headwater wetlands.

The runoff potential was greater in the lower half of the Charlie Creek basin than in the upper half, and the streambed of Charlie Creek had greater potential to both directly gain streamflow from groundwater and lose streamflow to groundwater. Charlie Creek is more incised into the surficial aquifer in the lower basin than in the upper basin, and the streambed intersects the top of the intermediate aquifer system at two known locations. Groundwater levels in the intermediate aquifer system varied widely in the lower half of the basin from artesian conditions inducing upward flow toward the surficial aquifer and streams, to recharging conditions allowing downward flow and stream leakage. Recharge areas were greatest in May 2004 when rainfall was at a seasonal low and irrigation pumping was at a seasonal high. Recharge conditions in May 2004 extended to beneath the streambed and included areas where fractured carbonate rocks at the top of the intermediate aquifer system crop out in the streambed, increasing the possibility for flow between the stream and aquifer. Groundwater withdrawals from wells open to the intermediate aquifer system exclusively, or to both the Upper Floridan aquifer and intermediate aquifer system, increased the occurrence of recharging conditions in Lower Charlie Creek subbasin as well as in Buckhorn Creek subbasin.

Agricultural irrigation water returning to the stream as runoff or base flow sustained flow in the Oak Creek tributary during a dry season when flow ceased in the two other main tributaries to Charlie Creek. With the exception of Little Charley Bowlegs Creek, dissolved minerals in agricultural return water increased the specific conductance of water in streams monitored in the Charlie Creek basin, particularly Oak and Buckhorn Creeks.

First posted October 13, 2010

For additional information contact:

Terrie Lee
U.S. Geological Survey
Florida Water Science Center
Suite 215
10500 University Center Dr.
Tampa, FL 33612-6427

813-975-8620 ext. 135

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Suggested citation:

Lee, T.M., Sacks, L.A., and Hughes, J.D., 2010, Effects of groundwater levels and headwater wetlands on streamflow in the Charlie Creek basin, Peace River watershed, west-central Florida: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2010–5189, 77 p.





Purpose and Scope

Description of Study Area

Methods of Investigation

Hydrogeologic Characterization

Basin Stratigraphy

Basin Topography and Hydrography

Groundwater Monitoring Network

Mapping and Spatial Analysis of Potentiometric Levels in Confined Aquifers

Seepage Runs

Hydrologic Analysis

Integrated Modeling of Surface Water and Groundwater

Observed and Simulated Water Budgets for the Basin

Hydrogeologic Framework of the Charlie Creek Basin

Hydrogeologic Units

Surficial Aquifer

Intermediate Aquifer System

Upper Floridan Aquifer

Groundwater Use

Aquifer Potentiometric Levels

Upper Floridan Aquifer

Intermediate Aquifer System

Head Differences between the Intermediate Aquifer System and Upper Floridan Aquifer

Surficial Aquifer

Temporal Changes in Vertical Head Differences between Aquifers

Groundwater and Stream Interactions

Artesian Flow Conditions in the Basin

Vertical Flow Potential between Streams and the Intermediate Aquifer System

Stream Interactions with the Surficial Aquifer

Seepage Inflow to Charlie Creek

Stream Specific Conductance

Hydrologic Analysis of the Charlie Creek Basin

Simulated Streamflow in Charlie Creek and its Tributaries

Basin and Subbasin Water Budgets

Rainfall and Evapotranspiration Differences between Subbasins

Wetland Water-Storage Differences between Subbasins

Groundwater Flow Differences between Subbasins

Runoff and Streamflow Differences between Subbasins

Hydrologic Differences between the Upper and Lower Parts of the Charlie Creek Basin

Summary and Conclusions

Selected References

Appendix 1, 2, and 3

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