Recharge and discharge are hydrological processes that cause Everglades surface water to be exchanged for subsurface water in the peat soil and the underlying sand and limestone aquifer. These interactions are thought to be important to water budgets, water quality, and ecology in the Everglades. Nonetheless, relatively few studies of surface water and ground water interactions have been conducted in the Everglades, especially in its vast interior areas. This report is a product of a cooperative investigation conducted by the USGS and the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) aimed at developing and testing techniques that would provide reliable estimates of recharge and discharge in interior areas of WCA-2A (Water Conservation Area 2A) and several other sites in the central Everglades. The new techniques quantified flow from surface water to the subsurface (recharge) and the opposite (discharge) using (1) Darcy-flux calculations based on measured vertical gradients in hydraulic head and hydraulic conductivity of peat; (2) modeling transport through peat and decay of the naturally occurring isotopes 224Ra and 223Ra (with half-lives of 4 and 11 days, respectively); and (3) modeling transport and decay of naturally occurring and 'bomb-pulse' tritium (half-life of 12.4 years) in ground water. Advantages and disadvantages of each method for quantifying recharge and discharge were compared. In addition, spatial and temporal variability of recharge and discharge were evaluated and controlling factors identified. A final goal was to develop appropriately simplified (that is, time averaged) expressions of the results that will be useful in addressing a broad range of hydrological and ecological problems in the Everglades. Results were compared with existing information about water budgets from the South Florida Water Management Model (SFWMM), a principal tool used by the South Florida Water Management District to plan many of the hydrological aspects of the Everglades restoration.
A century of water management for flood control and water storage in the Everglades resulted in the creation of the Water Conservation Areas (WCAs). Construction of the major canals began in the 1910s and the systems of levees that enclose the basins and structures that move water between basins were largely completed by the 1950s. The abandoned wetlands that remained outside of the Water Conservation areas tended to dry out and subside by 10 feet or more, which created abrupt transitions in land-surface elevations and water levels across the levees. The increases in topographic and hydraulic gradients near the margins of the WCAs, along with rapid pumping of water between basins to achieve management objectives, have together altered the patterns of recharge and discharge in the Everglades. The most evident change is the increase in the magnitude of recharge (on the upgradient side) and discharge (on the downgradient side) of levees separating WCA-2A from other basins or areas outside. Recharge and discharge in the vast interior of WCA-2A also likely have increased, but fluxes in the interior wetlands are more subtle and more difficult to quantify compared with areas close to the levees.
Surface-water and ground-water interactions differ in fundamental ways between wetlands near WCA-2A's boundaries and wetlands in the basin's interior. The levees that form the WCA's boundaries have introduced step functions in the topographic and hydraulic gradients that are important as a force to drive water flow across the wetland ground surface. The resulting recharge and discharge fluxes tend to be unidirectional (connecting points of recharge on the upgradient side of the levee with points of discharge on the downgradient side), and fluxes are also relatively steady in magnitude compared with fluxes in the interior. Recharge flow paths are also relatively deep in their extent near levees, with fluxes passing entirely through the 1-m peat layer and inte