Hydrogeology and Ground-Water Flow in the Memphis and Fort Pillow Aquifers in the Memphis Area, Tennessee

Water-Resources Investigations Report 89-4131

By J.V. Brahana and R.E. Broshears

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On the basis of known hydrogeology of the Memphis and Fort Pillow aquifers in the Memphis area, a three-layer, finite-difference numerical model was constructed and calibrated as the primary tool to refine understanding of flow in the aquifers. The model was calibrated and tested for accuracy in simulating measured heads for nine periods of transient flow from 1886-1985. Testing and sensitivity analyses indicated that the model accurately simulated observed heads areally as well as through time.

The study indicates that the flow system is currently dominated by the distribution of pumping in relation to the distribution of areally variable confining units. Current withdrawal of about 200 million gallons per day has altered the prepumping flow paths, and effectively captured most of the water flowing through the aquifers. Ground-water flow is controlled by the altitude and location of sources of recharge and discharge, and by the hydraulic characteristics of the hydrogeologic units.

Leakage between the Fort Pillow aquifer and Memphis aquifer, and between the Memphis aquifer and the water-table aquifers (alluvium and fluvial deposits) is a major component of the hydrologic budget. The study indicates that more than 50 percent of the water withdrawn from the Memphis aquifer in 1980 is derived from vertical leakage across confining units, and the leakage from the shallow aquifer (potential source of contamination) is not uniformly distributed. Simulated leakage was concentrated along the upper reaches of the Wolf and Loosahatchie Rivers, along the upper reaches of Nonconnah Creek, and the surficial aquifer of the Mississippi River alluvial plain. These simulations are supported by the geologic and geophysical evidence suggesting relatively thin or sandy confining units in these general locations. Because water from surficial aquifers is inferior in quality and more susceptible to contamination than water in the deeper aquifers, high rates of leakage to the Memphis aquifer may be cause for concern.

A significant component of flow (12 percent) discharging from the Fort Pillow aquifer was calculated as upward leakage to the Memphis aquifer. This upward leakage was generally limited to areas near major pumping centers in the Memphis aquifer, where heads in the Memphis aquifer have been drawn significantly below heads in the Fort Pillow aquifer. Although the Fort Pillow aquifer is not capable of producing as much water as the Memphis aquifer for similar conditions, it is nonetheless a valuable resource throughout the area.

Table of Contents



Approach and scope

Previous investigations

Hydrologic setting

Climate and precipitation

Topography and drainage

Hydrogeologic framework

Water-table aquifers


Fluvial deposits

Memphis aquifer

Fort Pillow aquifer

McNairy-Nacatoch aquifer

Conceptualization of the ground-water flow system

Simulation of the ground-water flow system

Finite-difference grid

Hydrologic parameters

Initial head distributions

Boundary conditions

Aquifer hydraulic properties


Model calibration

Model testing

Sensitivity analysis

Interpretation of model results

Hydrologic budget

Areal distribution of leakage

Model limitations

Summary and conclusions

Selected references


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U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey
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Last modified: Wednesday, December 07 2016, 12:50:50 PM
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