A series of databases and an accompanying screening model were constructed by the U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the National Park Service, to better understand the regional ground-water-flow system and its relation to stream drainage in the St. Croix River Basin. The St. Croix River and its tributaries drain about 8,000 square miles in northeastern Minnesota and northwestern Wisconsin. The databases contain information for the entire St. Croix River Basin pertaining to well logs, lithology, thickness of lithologic groups, ground-water levels, streamflow, and well pumpage. Maps and generalized cross sections created from the compiled data show the lithologic groups, extending from the water table to the crystalline bedrock, through which ground water flows. These lithologic groups are: fine-grained unconsolidated deposits; coarse-grained unconsolidated deposits; sandstone bedrock; carbonate bedrock; and other bedrock lithologies including shale, siltstone, conglomerate, and igneous intrusions.
The steady-state screening model treats the ground-water-flow system as a single layer with transmissivity zones that reflect the distribution of lithologic groups, and with recharge zones that correspond to general areas of high or low evapotranspiration. The model includes representation of second- and higher-order streams and municipal and other high-capacity production wells. The analytic-element model code GFLOW was used to simulate the regional ground-water flow, the water-table surface across the St. Croix River Basin, and base-flow contributions from ground water to streams. In addition, the model routes tributary base flow through the stream network to the St. Croix River. The parameter-estimation inverse model UCODE was linked to the GFLOW model to select the combination of parameter values best able to match over 5,000 water-level measurements and base-flow estimates at 22 streamflow-gaging stations. Results from the calibrated screening model show ground-water contributing areas for selected stream reaches within the basin. The delineation of these areas is useful to water-resource managers concerned with protection of fisheries and other resources. The model results also identify the areas of the basin where ground-water travel time from the water table to streams and wells is relatively short (less than 50 years). Ninety percent of the simulated ground-water pathlines require travel times between 3 and 260 years. The median pathline distance traversed and the median pathline velocity were 1.7 mi and 177 ft/y, respectively.
It is important to recognize the limitations of this screening model. Heterogeneities in subsurface properties and in recharge rates are considered only at a very broad scale (miles to tens of miles). No account is taken of vertical variations in properties or pumping rates, and no provision is made to account for stacked ground-water-flow systems that have different flow patterns at different depths. Small-scale (hundreds to thousands of feet) flow systems associated with minor water bodies are neglected, and as a result, the model is not useful for simulating typical site-specific problems. Despite its limitations, the model serves as a framework for understanding the regional pattern of ground-water flow and as a starting point for a generation of more targeted and detailed ground-water models that would be needed to address emerging water-supply and water-quality concerns in the St. Croix River Basin.