Impact of anthropogenic development on coastal ground-water hydrology in southeastern Florida, 1900-2000

Circular 1275

, , , , , , , ,



Southeastern Florida is an area that has been subject to widely conflicting anthropogenic stress to the Everglades and coastal ecosystems. This stress is a direct consequence of the 20th century economic competition for limited land and water resources needed to satisfy agricultural development and its expansion, its displacement by burgeoning urban development, and the accompanying growth of the limestone mining industry. The development of a highly controlled water-management system designed to reclaim land for urban and agricultural development has severely impacted the extent, character, and vitality of the historic Everglades and coastal ecosystems. An extensive conveyance system of canals, levees, impoundments, surface- water control structures, and numerous municipal well fields are used to sustain the present-day Everglades hydrologic system, prevent overland flow from moving eastward and flooding urban and agricultural areas, maintain water levels to prevent saltwater intrusion, and provide an adequate water supply. Extractive mining activities expanded considerably in the latter part of the 20th century, largely in response to urban construction needs. Much of the present-day urban-agricultural corridor of southeastern Florida lies within an area that is no more than 15 feet above NGVD 1929 and formerly characterized by freshwater marsh, upland, and saline coastal wetland ecosystems. Miami- Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach Counties have experienced explosive population growth, increasing from less than 4,000 inhabitants in 1900 to more than 5 million in 2000. Ground-water use, the principal source of municipal supply, has increased from about 65 Mgal/d (million gallons per day) obtained from 3 well fields in 1930 to more than 770 Mgal/d obtained from 65 well fields in 1995. Water use for agricultural supply increased from 505 Mgal/d in 1953 to nearly 1,150 Mgal/d in 1988, but has since declined to 764 Mgal/d in 1995, partly as a result of displacement of the agricultural industry by urban growth. Present-day agricultural supplies are obtained largely from surface-water sources in Palm Beach County and ground-water sources in Miami-Dade County, whereas Broward County agricultural growers have been largely displaced. The construction of a complex canal drainage system and large well fields has substantially altered the surface- and ground-water hydrologic systems. The drainage system constructed between 1910 and 1928 mostly failed to transport flood flows, however, and exacerbated periods of low rainfall and drought by overdraining the surficial aquifer system. Following completion of the 1930s Hoover Dike levee system that was designed to reduce Lake Okeechobee flood flows, the Central and Southern Florida Flood Control Project initiated the restructure of the existing conveyance system in 1948 through canal expansion, construction of protective levees and control structures, and greater management of ground-water levels in the surficial aquifer system. Gated canal control structures discharge excess surface water during the wet season and remain closed during the dry season to induce recharge by canal seepage and well withdrawals. Management of surface water through canal systems has successfully maintained lower ground-water levels inland to curb urban and agricultural flooding, and has been used to increase ground-water levels near the coast to impede saltwater intrusion. Coastal discharge, however, appears to have declined, due in part to water being rerouted to secondary canals, and to induced recharge to the surficial aquifer system by large municipal withdrawals. Southeastern Florida is underlain by Holocene- to Tertiary-age karstic limestone deposits that form (in descending order): a highly prolific surficial aquifer system, a poorly permeable intermediate confining system, and a permeable Floridan aquifer system. Prior to construction of a complex drainage netwo

Additional Publication Details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Impact of anthropogenic development on coastal ground-water hydrology in southeastern Florida, 1900-2000
Series title:
Series number:
Year Published:
ix, 77 p. : col. ill., col. maps ; 22 x 28 cm.; 1 CD-ROM (4 3/4 in.)