Interactions between surface water and ground water and effects on mercury transport in the north-central Everglades

Water-Resources Investigations Report 2002-4050

, , , , , , and



The hydrology of the north-central Everglades was altered substantially in the past century by canal dredging, land subsidence, ground-water pumping, and levee construction. Vast areas of seasonal and perennial wetlands were converted to uses for agriculture, light industry, and suburban development. As the catchment area for the Everglades decreased, so did the sources of water from local precipitation and runoff from surrounding uplands. Partly in response to those alterations, water-resources managers compartmentalized the remaining wetlands in the north-central Everglades into large retention basins, called Water Conservation Areas (WCAs). In spite of efforts to improve how water resources are managed, the result has been frequent periods of excessive drying out or flooding of the WCAs because the managed system does not have the same water-storage capacity as the pre-drainage Everglades. Linked to the hydrological modifications are ecological changes including large-scale invasions of cattail, loss of tree islands, and diminishing bird populations in the Everglades. Complex interactions among numerous physical, chemical, and biological factors are responsible for the long-term degradation of the ecological character of the Everglades.Over the past 15 years, a new set of smaller wetland basins, called Stormwater Treatment Areas (STAs), have been designed and constructed by water-resources engineers on the former wetlands adjacent to WCAs. The purpose of STAs is to remove excess nutrients from agricultural drainage water prior to its input to WCAs. STAs tend to be about one-tenth the size of a WCA, and they are located on former wetlands on the northwestern side of WCAs on sites that were managed as farmland for much of the twentieth century in an area referred to as the Everglades Agricultural Area, or EAA. The objective of the present investigation was to quantify interactions between surface water and ground water in the Everglades Nutrient Removal Project (ENR), a prototype project for the STAs that began operation in 1994. Determining the effect of ground water on the mercury balance of the ENR treatment wetland was an important additional objective. In order to broaden the relevance of conclusions to all parts of the north-central Everglades, interactions between surface water and ground water and mercury also were investigated in Water Conservation Area 2A (WCA-2A) and, to a lesser extent, in two other WCA basins, WCA-2B and WCA-3A.An important conclusion of this study is that creation of the WCA basins, and accompanying water-resources management, have appreciably increased both recharge and discharge in the north-central Everglades compared with pre-drainage conditions. Recharge and discharge are highest near the northern and northwestern edges of the Everglades, in the relatively small basins such as ENR and the STAs that share borders with both WCA-1 and the EAA. All basins experienced greater increases in recharge relative to discharge, because of the effects that land subsidence and ground-water pumping outside the Everglades had on hydraulic gradients. The highest basin-wide estimate of recharge was measured in ENR, where recharge averaged 0.9 centimeter per day (cm/d) over a 4-year study period. For perspective, that estimate of recharge is the equivalent of 30 percent of pumped surface-water inflows and 230 percent of average daily precipitation in ENR. Ground-water discharge was 10 times smaller than recharge at ENR. The present study estimated a basin-averaged recharge for WCA-2A (0.2 cm/d) that was a factor of 4 smaller than ENR. Although preliminary, that estimate of recharge is 5 times higher than previous estimates (approximately 0.04 cm/d), probably because the newer measurements were able to quantify recharge and discharge at finer spatial and temporal scales. Recharge at WCA-2A is smaller than ENR because WCA-2A has a smaller topographic gradient (3 x 10-5 and 2 x 10-4 in WCA-2A and ENR, respective

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Interactions between surface water and ground water and effects on mercury transport in the north-central Everglades
Series title:
Water-Resources Investigations Report
Series number:
Year Published:
vi, 82 p. : ill. (some col.), maps (some col.) ; 28 cm.