Major streams and tributaries located in the Aucilla-Suwannee-Ochlockonee (ASO) River Basin of south-central Georgia and adjacent parts of Florida drain about 8,000 square miles of a layered sequence of clastic and carbonate sediments and carbonate Coastal Plain sediments consisting of the surficial aquifer system, upper semiconfining unit, Upper Floridan aquifer, and lower confining unit. Streams either flow directly on late-middle Eocene to Oligocene karst limestone or carve a dendritic drainage pattern into overlying Miocene to Holocene sand, silt, and clay, facilitating water exchange and hydraulic connection with geohydrologic units.
Geologic structures operating in the ASO River Basin through time control sedimentation and influence geohydrology and water exchange between geohydrologic units and surface water. More than 300 feet (ft) of clastic sediments overlie the Upper Floridan aquifer in the Gulf Trough-Apalachicola Embayment, a broad area extending from the southwest to the northeast through the center of the basin. These clastic sediments limit hydraulic connection and water exchange between the Upper Floridan aquifer, the surficial aquifer system, and surface water. Accumulation of more than 350 ft of low-permeability sediments in the Southeast Georgia Embayment and Suwannee Strait hydraulically isolates the Upper Floridan aquifer from land-surface hydrologic processes in the Okefenokee Basin physiographic district. Burial of limestone beneath thick clastic overburden in these areas virtually eliminates karst processes, resulting in low aquifer hydraulic conductivity and storage coefficient despite an aquifer thickness of more than 900 ft. Conversely, uplift and faulting associated with regional tectonics and the northern extension of the Peninsular Arch caused thinning and erosion of clastic sediments overlying the Upper Floridan aquifer southeast of the Gulf Trough-Apalachicola Embayment near the Florida-Georgia State line. Limestone dissolution in Brooks and Lowndes Counties, Ga., create karst features that enhance water-transmitting and storage properties of the Upper Floridan aquifer, promoting groundwater recharge and water exchange between the aquifer, land surface, and surface water.
Structural control of groundwater flow and hydraulic properties combine with climatic effects and increased hydrologic stress from agricultural pumpage to yield unprecedented groundwater-level decline in the northwestern and central parts of the ASO River Basin. Hydrographs from continuous-record observation wells in these regions document declining groundwater levels, indicating diminished water-resource potential of the Upper Floridan aquifer through time. More than 24 ft of groundwater-level decline occurred along the basin's northwestern boundary with the lower Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin, lowering hydraulic gradients that provide the potential for groundwater flow into the ASO River Basin and southeastward across the Gulf Trough-Apalachicola Embayment region. Slow-moving groundwater across the trough-embayment region coupled with downward-vertical flow from upper to lower limestone units composing the Upper Floridan aquifer resulted in 40-50 ft of groundwater-level decline since 1969 in southeastern Colquitt County. Multi-year episodes of dry climatic conditions during the 1980s through the early 2000s contributed to seasonal and long-term groundwater-level decline by reducing recharge to the Upper Floridan aquifer and increasing hydrologic stress by agricultural pumpage. Unprecedented and continued groundwater-level decline since 1969 caused 40-50 ft of aquifer dewatering in southeastern Colquitt County that reduced aquifer transmissivity and the ability to supply groundwater to wells, resulting in depletion of the groundwater resource.