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Scientific Investigations Report 2014–5162

Prepared in cooperation with the Miami-Dade Water and Sewer Department

Hydrologic Conditions in Urban Miami-Dade County, Florida, and the Effect of Groundwater Pumpage and Increased Sea Level on Canal Leakage and Regional Groundwater Flow

By Joseph D. Hughes and Jeremy T. White

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (33.6 MB)Abstract

The extensive and highly managed surface-water system in southeastern Florida constructed during the 20th Century has allowed for the westward expansion of urban and agricultural activities in Miami-Dade County. In urban areas of the county, the surface-water system is used to (1) control urban flooding, (2) supply recharge to production well fields, and (3) control seawater intrusion. Previous studies in Miami-Dade County have determined that on a local scale, leakage from canals adjacent to well fields can supply a large percentage (46 to 78 percent) of the total groundwater pumpage from production well fields. Canals in the urban areas also receive seepage from the Biscayne aquifer that is derived from a combination of local rainfall and groundwater flow from Water Conservation Area 3 and Everglades National Park, which are west of urban areas of Miami-Dade County.

To evaluate the effects of groundwater pumpage on canal leakage and regional groundwater flow, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) developed and calibrated a coupled surface-water/groundwater model of the urban areas of Miami-Dade County, Florida. The model was calibrated by using observation data collected from January 1997 through December 2004. The model calibration was verified using observation data collected from January 2005 through December 2010. A 1-year warmup period (January 1996 through December 1996) was added prior to the start of the calibration period to reduce the effects of inaccurate initial conditions on model calibration. The model is designed to simulate surface-water stage and discharge in the managed canal system and dynamic canal leakage to the Biscayne aquifer as well as seepage to the canal from the aquifer. The model was developed using USGS MODFLOW–NWT with the Surface-Water Routing (SWR1) Process to simulate surface-water stage, surface-water discharge, and surface-water/groundwater interaction and the Seawater Intrusion (SWI2) Package to simulate seawater intrusion, respectively.

Automated parameter estimation software (PEST) and highly parameterized inversion techniques were used to calibrate the model to observed surface-water stage, surface-water discharge, net surface-water subbasin discharge, and groundwater level data from 1997 through 2004 by modifying hydraulic conductivity, specific storage coefficients, specific yield, evapotranspiration parameters, canal roughness coefficients (Manning’s n values), and canal leakance coefficients. Tikhonov regularization was used to produce parameter distributions that provide an acceptable fit between model outputs and observation data, while simultaneously minimizing deviations from preferred values based on field measurements and expert knowledge.

Analytical and simulated water budgets for the period from 1996 through 2010 indicate that most of the water discharging through the salinity control structures is derived from within the urban parts of the study area and that, on average, the canals are draining the Biscayne aquifer. Simulated groundwater discharge from the urban areas to the coast is approximately 7 percent of the total surface-water inflow to Biscayne Bay and is consistent with previous estimates of fresh groundwater discharge to Biscayne Bay. Simulated groundwater budgets indicate that groundwater pumpage in some surface-water basins ranges from 13 to 27 percent of the sum of local sources of groundwater inflow. The largest percentage of groundwater pumpage to local sources of groundwater inflow occurs in the basins that have the highest pumping rates (C–2 and C–100 Basins). The ratio of groundwater pumpage to simulated local sources of groundwater inflow is less than values calculated in previous local-scale studies.

The position of the freshwater-seawater interface at the base of the Biscayne aquifer did not change notably during the simulation period (1996–2010), consistent with the similar positions of the interface in 1984, 1995, and 2011 under similar hydrologic and groundwater pumping conditions. Landward movement of the freshwater-seawater interface above the base of the aquifer is more prone to occur during relatively dry years.

The model was used to evaluate the effect of increased groundwater pumpage and (or) increased sea level on canal leakage, regional groundwater flow, and the position of the freshwater-seawater interface. Permitted groundwater pumping rates, which generally exceed historical groundwater pumping rates, were used for Miami-Dade County Water and Sewer Department groundwater pumping wells in the base-case future scenario. Base-case future and increased pumping scenario results suggest seawater intrusion may occur at the Miami-Springs well field if the Miami Springs, Hialeah, and Preston well fields are operated using current permitted groundwater pumping rates. Scenario simulations also show that, in general, the canal system limits the adverse effects of proposed groundwater pumpage increases on water-level changes and saltwater intrusion. Proposed increases (up to a 7 percent increase) in groundwater pumpage do not have a notable effect on movement of the freshwater-seawater interface. Increased groundwater pumpage increased lateral groundwater inflow into basins subject to additional groundwater pumpage; however, most (55 percent) of the additional groundwater extracted from pumping wells was supplied by changes in canal seepage and leakage in urban areas of the model. Increased sea level caused increased water-table elevations in urban areas and decreased hydraulic gradients across the system; the largest increases in water-table elevations occurred seaward of the salinity control structures. The extent of flood-prone areas and the percentage of time water-table elevations in flood-prone areas were less than 0.5 foot below land surface increased with increased sea level. Increased sea level also resulted in landward migration of the freshwater-seawater interface; the largest changes in the position of the interface occurred seaward of the salinity control structures except in parts of the model area that were inundated by increased sea level. Decreased water-table gradients reduced groundwater inflow, groundwater outflow, canal exchanges, surface-water inflow, and surface-water outflow through salinity control structures. Results for the scenario that evaluated the combination of increased groundwater pumpage and increased sea level did not differ substantially from the scenario that evaluated increased sea level alone. Groundwater inflow, groundwater outflow, and canal exchanges were reduced in urban areas of the study area as a result of decreased water-table gradients across the system, although reductions were less than those in the increased sea-level scenario. The decline in groundwater levels caused by increased groundwater pumpage was less under the increased sea-level scenario than under the increased groundwater-pumpage scenario. The largest reductions in surface-water outflow from the salinity control structures occurred with increased sea level and increased groundwater pumpage.

The model was designed specifically to evaluate the effect of groundwater pumpage on canal leakage at the surface-water-basin scale and thus may not be appropriate for (1) predictions that are dependent on data not included in the calibration process (for example, subdaily simulation of high-intensity events and travel times) and (or) (2) hydrologic conditions that are substantially different from those during the calibration and verification periods. The reliability of the model is limited by the conceptual model of the surface-water and groundwater system, the spatial distribution of physical properties, the scale and discretization of the system, and specified boundary conditions. Some of the model limitations are manifested in model errors. Despite these limitations, however, the model represents the complexities of the interconnected surface-water and groundwater systems that affect how the systems respond to groundwater pumpage, sea-level rise, and other hydrologic stresses. The model also quantifies the relative effects of groundwater pumpage and sea-level rise on the surface-water and groundwater systems.

Revised August 3, 2016

First September 23, 2014

For additional information, contact:
Director, Caribbean-Florida Water Science Center
U.S. Geological Survey
4446 Pet Lane, Suite 108
Lutz, FL 33559

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Suggested citation:

Hughes, J.D., and White, J.T., 2016, Hydrologic conditions in urban Miami-Dade County, Florida, and the effect of groundwater pumpage and increased sea level on canal leakage and regional groundwater flow (ver. 1.2, July 2016): U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2014–5162, 175 p.,

ISSN 2328–0328 (online)




Hydrologic Conditions in Urban Miami-Dade County

Model Development

Model Calibration and Fit, and Simulation of Hydrologic System from 1996 to 2010

Model Reliability


References Cited

Appendix 1. Documentation for the General Flux Boundary Package for MODFLOW

Appendix 2. Observed and Simulated Canal Stages

Appendix 3. Observed and Simulated Canal Discharge

Appendix 4. Observed and Simulated Net Canal Discharge

Appendix 5. Observed and Simulated Groundwater Levels

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