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Scientific Investigations Report 2013–5146

Prepared in cooperation with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Potential Effects of Deepening the St. Johns River Navigation Channel on Saltwater Intrusion in the Surficial Aquifer System, Jacksonville, Florida

By Jason C. Bellino and Rick M. Spechler

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The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has proposed dredging a 13-mile reach of the St. Johns River navigation channel in Jacksonville, Florida, deepening it to depths between 50 and 54 feet below North American Vertical Datum of 1988. The dredging operation will remove about 10 feet of sediments from the surficial aquifer system, including limestone in some locations. The limestone unit, which is in the lowermost part of the surficial aquifer system, supplies water to domestic wells in the Jacksonville area. Because of density-driven hydrodynamics of the St. Johns River, saline water from the Atlantic Ocean travels upstream as a saltwater “wedge” along the bottom of the channel, where the limestone is most likely to be exposed by the proposed dredging. A study was conducted to determine the potential effects of navigation channel deepening in the St. Johns River on salinity in the adjacent surficial aquifer system. Simulations were performed with each of four cross-sectional, variable-density groundwater-flow models, developed using SEAWAT, to simulate hypothetical changes in salinity in the surficial aquifer system as a result of dredging. The cross-sectional models were designed to incorporate a range of hydrogeologic conceptualizations to estimate the effect of uncertainty in hydrogeologic properties. The cross-sectional models developed in this study do not necessarily simulate actual projected conditions; instead, the models were used to examine the potential effects of deepening the navigation channel on saltwater intrusion in the surficial aquifer system under a range of plausible hypothetical conditions.

Simulated results for modeled conditions indicate that dredging will have little to no effect on salinity variations in areas upstream of currently proposed dredging activities. Results also indicate little to no effect in any part of the surficial aquifer system along the cross section near River Mile 11 or in the water-table unit along the cross section near River Mile 8. Salinity increases of up to 4.0 parts per thousand (ppt) were indicated by the model incorporating hydrogeologic conceptualizations with both a semiconfining bed over the limestone unit and a preferential flow layer within the limestone along the cross section near River Mile 8. Simulated increases in salinity greater than 0.2 ppt in this area were generally limited to portions of the limestone unit within about 75 feet of the channel on the north side of the river.

The potential for saltwater to move from the river channel to the surficial aquifer system is limited, but may be present in areas where the head gradient from the aquifer to the river is small or negative and the salinity of the river is sufficient to induce density-driven advective flow into the aquifer. In some areas, simulated increases in salinity were exacerbated by the presence of laterally extensive semiconfining beds in combination with a high-conductivity preferential flow zone in the limestone unit of the surficial aquifer system and an upgradient source of saline water, such as beneath the salt marshes near Fanning Island. The volume of groundwater pumped in these areas is estimated to be low; therefore, saltwater intrusion will not substantially affect regional water supply, although users of the surficial aquifer system east of Dames Point along the northern shore of the river could be affected. Proposed dredging operations pose no risk to salinization of the Floridan aquifer system; in the study area, the intermediate confining unit ranges in thickness from more than 300 to about 500 feet and provides sufficient hydraulic separation between the surficial and Floridan aquifer systems.

Updated August 20, 2013

First posted August 2, 2013

For additional information contact:
USGS Florida Water Science Center
10500 University Center Drive, Suite 215
Tampa, FL 33612-6427
Phone: 813-975-8620

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Suggested citation:

Bellino, J.C., and Spechler, R.M., 2013, Potential effects of deepening the St. Johns River navigation channel on saltwater intrusion in the surficial aquifer system, Jacksonville, Florida: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2013–5146, 34 p.





Description of Study Area


Simulation of Groundwater Flow

Potential Effects of Channel Deepening on Saltwater Intrusion


Selected References

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