Base Flow and Ground Water in Upper Sweetwater Valley, Tennessee

U.S. Geological Survey, Water-Resources Investigations Report 83-4068

by R.D. Evaldi, and J.G. Lewis

This report is available as a pdf below


The upper Sweetwater Valley area has a flow system with complex interaction between surface and ground water. A water budget study indicated that during dry years approximately three-fourths of the annual flow to Sweetwater Creek may be derived from ground-water sources. Hydrograph analysis showed seasonal variation of recharge to the ground-water flow system. Streamflow records were analyzed to estimate the frequency of low flow of Sweetwater Creek at river mile 16.7, and indicated the lowest average flow for 1 day in 20 years to be about 5.1 cubic feet per second. Two periods of base-flow measurements of Sweetwater Creek identified channel reaches with significant gains and losses of streamflow.

Base flow measurements also showed interbasin transfer of water among sub-basins of the valley. Major flow surpluses were associated with areas in which the majority of flow originated at a spring. Topographically low areas adjacent to the main stem of Sweetwater Creek generally have surplus flow. Topographically higher areas generally have deficient surface outflow unless significant spring flow occurs in the basin.

Ground-water recharge occurs by water draining into sinkholes, faults, and fractures. Ground-water flow is regionally diffused across formation strikes from the topographically low areas unless the water is exposed to highly permeable formations or impervious formations. Ground water infiltrates the highly permeable formations and flows along strike. Ground water encountering impervious formations may discharge at small springs at the contact, or may reroute along the contact if the upgradient rock is sufficiently permeable or has well developed secondary porosity. Groundwater discharges to streams at innumerable seeps and at a few large springs. Areas of ground-water flow up-gradient of large springs are hypothesized as likely areas of significant ground-water reservoirs.

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