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Relations between total phosphorus and orthophosphorus concentrations and rainfall, surface-water discharge, and groundwater levels in Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation, Florida, 2014–16

Open-File Report 2018-1014

Prepared in cooperation with the Seminole Tribe of Florida
By:
https://doi.org/10.3133/ofr20181014

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Abstract

The Seminole Tribe of Florida (the Tribe) is partnering with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to develop a numeric phosphorus criterion for the 52,000-acre Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation (BCSIR), which is located downgradient of the Everglades Agricultural Area, and of other public and private lands, in southeastern Hendry County and northwestern Broward County in southern Florida. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), in cooperation with the Tribe, used water-quality data collected between October 2014 and September 2016 by the Tribe and the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), along with data from rainfall gages, surface-water stage and discharge gages, and groundwater monitoring wells, to (1) examine the relations between local hydrology and measured total phosphorus (TP) and orthophosphorus (OP) concentrations and (2) identify explanatory variables for TP concentrations. Of particular concern were conditions when TP exceeded 10 parts per billion (ppb) (0.01 milligram per liter [mg/L]) given that the State of Florida and the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians Alligator Alley Reservation (located downstream of the BCSIR) have adopted a 10-ppb maximum TP criterion for surface waters.

From October 2014 to September 2016, the Tribe collected 47–52 samples at each of nine water-quality sites for analysis of TP and OP, except at one site where 28 samples were collected. For all sites sampled, concentrations of TP (as phosphorus [P]) ranged from less than 0.002 mg/L (2 ppb) to a maximum of nearly 0.50 mg/L (500 ppb), whereas concentrations of OP (as P), the reactive form of inorganic phosphorus readily absorbed by plants and (or) abiotically absorbed, ranged from less than 0.003 mg/L (3 ppb) to a maximum of 0.24 mg/L (240 ppb). The median and interquartile ranges of concentrations of TP and OP in the samples collected in 2014–16 by the Tribe were similar to the median and interquartile ranges of concentrations in samples collected by the SFWMD at nearby sites during the same period. Differences in concentrations can likely be explained by differences in sample collection methods, sampling locations, sample collection time, and the hydrology during sampling or by the number of samples collected. A major limitation of this study was the short duration of sample collection, which covers a limited range of hydrologic conditions within the BCSIR.

The effect of surface-water and groundwater hydrologic conditions on TP and OP concentrations was assessed by using rainfall data and surface-water stage and discharge records. The highest TP and OP concentrations occurred during peak surface-water flows in the canals following long dry periods. Concentrations of TP and OP increased internal to the BCSIR in the western half of the BCSIR during wet periods, but increased concentrations tended to lag behind rainfall events, likely because control structures upstream of sampling sites do not release flows until the water levels in the canals reach predetermined levels. This pattern may indicate that bed sediments in the canals contain high concentrations of phosphorus that becomes resuspended during high flows or that phosphorus salts that had accumulated on dry land during dry periods are carried into the canals by runoff. The largest TP spikes usually occurred at the beginning of high-flow events, but then quickly tapered off even when flows remained high.

Groundwater flows were assessed in the BCSIR by using groundwater level observations from two preexisting USGS monitoring well clusters, each characterized by a shallow well installed in the surficial aquifer system and a deeper well installed in the intermediate aquifer system. Groundwater levels were evaluated with respect to surface-water levels and discharge in the BCSIR during the period of surface-water sampling. During dry conditions water levels in canals were often higher than groundwater levels in the surficial aquifer, indicating the potential for surface water to recharge the surficial aquifer. During wetter conditions, this trend reversed, and there was potential for shallow groundwater discharge into the canals.

From October 2014 to September 2016, concentrations of TP tended to decrease as surface-water inflows moved across the BCSIR from north to south. In both the western and eastern halves of the reservation, the mean concentration of TP was lower in the surface-water outflows from the BCSIR than in the inflows. The mean concentration of TP in the inflows to the western reservation was 0.04 mg/L (40 ppb), whereas the mean concentration of TP in the outflows was 0.03 mg/L (30 ppb). In the eastern reservation, the mean concentration of TP in the inflows was 0.07 mg/L (70 ppb), whereas the mean concentration of TP in the outflows was 0.04 mg/L (40 ppb).

TP and OP concentrations were evaluated relative to other water-quality parameters, including turbidity, suspended solids, nitrate plus nitrite, dissolved oxygen, pH, and specific conductance, to determine if any relations existed between TP and other variables. Weak relations were indicated for turbidity and suspended solids at two sites, which indicates that there may be a relation of increased TP to mobilization of sediment.

Suggested Citation

McBride, W.S., and Sifuentes, D.F., 2018, Relations between total phosphorus and orthophosphorus concentrations and rainfall, surface-water discharge, and groundwater levels in Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation, Florida, 2014–16: U.S. Geological Survey Open File Report 2018–1014, 63 p., https://doi.org/10.3133/ofr20181014.

ISSN: 2331-1258 (online)

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Analysis of Total Phosphorus and Orthophosphorus Data
  • Relations Between Total Phosphorus and Orthophosphorus Concentrations and Rainfall, Surface-Water Discharge, and Groundwater Levels
  • Summary
  • References Cited

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Report
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Title:
Relations between total phosphorus and orthophosphorus concentrations and rainfall, surface-water discharge, and groundwater levels in Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation, Florida, 2014–16
Series title:
Open-File Report
Series number:
2018-1014
DOI:
10.3133/ofr20181014
Year Published:
2018
Language:
English
Publisher:
U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Reston, VA
Contributing office(s):
FLWSC-Tampa
Description:
xi, 63 p.
Country:
United States
State:
Florida
Other Geospatial:
Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation
Online Only (Y/N):
Y