Recharge areas of spring systems can be hard to identify, but they can be critically important for protection of a spring resource. A recharge area for a spring complex in southern Wisconsin was delineated using a variety of complementary techniques. A telescopic mesh refinement (TMR) model was constructed from an existing regional-scale ground water flow model. This TMR model was formally optimized using parameter estimation techniques; the optimized "best fit" to measured heads and fluxes was obtained by using a horizontal hydraulic conductivity 200% larger than the original regional model for the upper bedrock aquifer and 80% smaller for the lower bedrock aquifer. The uncertainty in hydraulic conductivity was formally considered using a stochastic Monte Carlo approach. Two-hundred model runs used uniformly distributed, randomly sampled, horizontal hydraulic conductivity values within the range given by the TMR optimized values and the previously constructed regional model. A probability distribution of particles captured by the spring, or a "probabilistic capture zone," was calculated from the realistic Monte Carlo results (136 runs of 200). In addition to portions of the local surface watershed, the capture zone encompassed areas outside of the watershed - demonstrating that the ground watershed and surface watershed do not coincide. Analysis of water collected from the site identified relatively large contrasts in chemistry, even for springs within 15 m of one another. The differences showed a distinct gradation from Ordovician-carbonate-dominated water in western spring vents to Cambrian-sandstone-influenced water in eastern spring vents. The difference in chemistry was attributed to distinctive bedrock geology as demonstrated by overlaying the capture zone derived from numerical modeling over a bedrock geology map for the area. This finding gives additional confidence to the capture zone calculated by modeling.
Additional publication details
Delineating a recharge area for a spring using numerical modeling, Monte Carlo techniques, and geochemical investigation