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Groundwater is the main source of water supply in Highlands County, Florida. As the demand for water in the county increases, additional information about local groundwater resources is needed to manage and develop the water supply effectively. To address the need for additional data, a study was conducted to evaluate the hydrogeology and groundwater quality of Highlands County.
Total groundwater use in Highlands County has increased steadily since 1965. Total groundwater withdrawals increased from about 37 million gallons per day in 1965 to about 107 million gallons per day in 2005. Much of this increase in water use is related to agricultural activities, especially citrus cultivation, which increased more than 300 percent from 1965 to 2005.
Highlands County is underlain by three principal hydrogeologic units. The uppermost water-bearing unit is the surficial aquifer, which is underlain by the intermediate aquifer system/intermediate confining unit. The lowermost hydrogeologic unit is the Floridan aquifer system, which consists of the Upper Floridan aquifer, as many as three middle confining units, and the Lower Floridan aquifer.
The surficial aquifer consists primarily of fine-to-medium grained quartz sand with varying amounts of clay and silt. The aquifer system is unconfined and underlies the entire county. The thickness of the surficial aquifer is highly variable, ranging from less than 50 to more than 300 feet. Groundwater in the surficial aquifer is recharged primarily by precipitation, but also by septic tanks, irrigation from wells, seepage from lakes and streams, and the lateral groundwater inflow from adjacent areas.
The intermediate aquifer system/intermediate confining unit acts as a confining layer (except where breached by sinkholes) that restricts the vertical movement of water between the surficial aquifer and the underlying Upper Floridan aquifer. The sediments have varying degrees of permeability and consist of permeable limestone, dolostone, or sand, or relatively impermeable layers of clay, clayey sand, or clayey carbonates. The thickness of the intermediate aquifer system/ intermediate confining unit ranges from about 200 feet in northwestern Highlands County to more than 600 feet in the southwestern part. Although the intermediate aquifer system is present in the county, it is unclear where the aquifer system grades into a confining unit in the eastern part of the county. Up to two water-bearing units are present in the intermediate aquifer system within the county. The lateral continuity and water-bearing potential of the various aquifers within the intermediate aquifer system are highly variable.
The Floridan aquifer system is composed of a thick sequence of limestone and dolostone of Upper Paleocene to Oligocene age. The top of the aquifer system ranges from less than 200 feet below NGVD 29 in extreme northwestern Highlands County to more than 600 feet below NGVD 29 in the southwestern part. The principal source of groundwater supply in the county is the Upper Floridan aquifer. As of 2005, about 89 percent of the groundwater withdrawn from the county was obtained from this aquifer, mostly for agricultural irrigation and public supply. Over most of Highlands County, the Upper Floridan aquifer generally contains freshwater, and the Lower Floridan aquifer contains more mineralized water. The potentiometric surface of the Upper Floridan aquifer is constantly fluctuating, mainly in response to seasonal variations in rainfall and groundwater withdrawals. The potentiometric surface of the Upper Floridan aquifer in May 2007, which represents the hydrologic conditions near the end of the dry season when water levels generally are near their lowest, ranged from about 79 feet above NGVD 29 in northwestern Highlands County to about 40 feet above NGVD 29 in the southeastern part of the county. The potentiometric surface of the Upper Floridan aquifer in September 2007 was about 3 to 10 feet high
Additional Publication Details
USGS Numbered Series
Hydrogeology and groundwater quality of Highlands County, Florida