The Charlie Creek basin was studied from April 2004 to December 2005 to better understand how groundwater levels in the underlying aquifers and storage and overflow of water from headwater wetlands preserve the streamflows exiting this least-developed tributary basin of the Peace River watershed. The hydrogeologic framework, physical characteristics, and streamflow were described and quantified for five subbasins of the 330-square mile Charlie Creek basin, allowing the contribution of its headwaters area and tributary subbasins to be separately quantified. A MIKE SHE model simulation of the integrated surface-water and groundwater flow processes in the basin was used to simulate daily streamflow observed over 21 months in 2004 and 2005 at five streamflow stations, and to quantify the monthly and annual water budgets for the five subbasins including the changing amount of water stored in wetlands. Groundwater heads were mapped in Zone 2 of the intermediate aquifer system and in the Upper Floridan aquifer, and were used to interpret the location of artesian head conditions in the Charlie Creek basin and its relation to streamflow. Artesian conditions in the intermediate aquifer system induce upward groundwater flow into the surficial aquifer and help sustain base flow which supplies about two-thirds of the streamflow from the Charlie Creek basin. Seepage measurements confirmed seepage inflow to Charlie Creek during the study period.
The upper half of the basin, comprised largely of the Upper Charlie Creek subbasin, has lower runoff potential than the lower basin, more storage of runoff in wetlands, and periodically generates no streamflow. Artesian head conditions in the intermediate aquifer system were widespread in the upper half of the Charlie Creek basin, preventing downward leakage from expansive areas of wetlands and enabling them to act as headwaters to Charlie Creek once their storage requirements were met. Currently, the dynamic balance between wetland storage, rainfall-runoff processes, and groundwater-level differences in the upper basin allow it to generate approximately half of the streamflow from the Charlie Creek basin. Therefore, future development in the upper basin that would alter the hydraulic connectivity of wetlands during high flow conditions or expand recharging groundwater conditions could substantially affect streamflow in Charlie Creek. LIDAR (Light detection and ranging) based topographic maps and integrated modeling results were used to quantify the water stored in wetlands and other topographic depressions, and to describe the network of shallow stream channels connecting wetlands to Charlie Creek and its tributaries over distances of several thousand feet. Peak flows at all but one streamflow station were underpredicted in MIKE SHE simulations, possibly because the hydraulics of surface channels connecting wetlands to stream channels were not explicitly simulated in the model. Explicitly simulating the smaller channels connecting wetlands and stream channels should improve the ability of future watershed models to simulate peak flows in streams with headwater wetlands.
The runoff potential was greater in the lower half of the Charlie Creek basin than in the upper half, and the streambed of Charlie Creek had greater potential to both directly gain streamflow from groundwater and lose streamflow to groundwater. Charlie Creek is more incised into the surficial aquifer in the lower basin than in the upper basin, and the streambed intersects the top of the intermediate aquifer system at two known locations. Groundwater levels in the intermediate aquifer system varied widely in the lower half of the basin from artesian conditions inducing upward flow toward the surficial aquifer and streams, to recharging conditions allowing downward flow and stream leakage. Recharge areas were greatest in May 2004 when rainfall was at a seasonal low and irrigation pumping was at a seasonal high. Recharge conditions