Groundwater levels, geochemistry, and water budget of the Tsala Apopka Lake system, west-central Florida, 2004–12

Scientific Investigations Report 2017-5132

Prepared in cooperation with the Southwest Florida Water Management District
, , , , and



Tsala Apopka Lake is a complex system of lakes and wetlands, with intervening uplands, located in Citrus County in west-central Florida. It is located within the 2,100 square mile watershed of the Withlacoochee River, which drains north and northwest towards the Gulf of Mexico. The lake system is managed by the Southwest Florida Water Management District as three distinct “pools,” which from upstream to downstream are referred to as the Floral City Pool, Inverness Pool, and Hernando Pool. Each pool contains a mixture of deep-water lakes that remain wet year round, ephemeral (seasonal) ponds and wetlands, and dry uplands. Many of the major deep-water lakes are interconnected by canals. Flow from the Withlacoochee River, when conditions allow, can be diverted into the lake system. Flow thorough the canals can be used to control the distribution of water between the three pools. Flow in the canals is controlled using structures, such as gates and weirs.

Hydrogeologic units in the study area include a surficial aquifer consisting of Quaternary-age sediments, a discontinuous intermediate confining unit consisting of Miocene- and Pliocene-age sediments, and the underlying Upper Floridan aquifer, which consists of Eocene- and Oligocene-age carbonates. The fine-grained quartz sands that constitute the surficial aquifer are generally thin, typically less than 25 feet thick, within the vicinity of Tsala Apopka Lake. A thin, discontinuous, sandy clay layer forms the intermediate confining unit. The Upper Floridan aquifer is generally unconfined in the vicinity of Tsala Apopka Lake because the intermediate confining unit is discontinuous and breached by numerous karst features. In the study area, the Upper Floridan aquifer includes the upper Avon Park Formation and Ocala Limestone. The Ocala Limestone is the primary source of drinking water and spring flow in the area.

The objectives of this study are to document the interaction of Tsala Apopka Lake, the surficial aquifer, and the Upper Floridan aquifer; and to estimate an annual water budget for each pool and for the entire lake system for 2004–12. The hydrologic interactions were evaluated using hydraulic head and geochemical data. Geochemical data, including major ion, isotope, and age-tracer data, were used to evaluate sources of water and to distinguish flow paths. Hydrologic connection of the surficial environment (lakes, ponds, wetlands, and the surficial aquifer) was quantified on the basis of a conceptualized annual water-budget model. The model included the change in surface water and groundwater storage, precipitation, evapotranspiration, surface-water inflow and outflow, and net groundwater exchange with the underlying Upper Floridan aquifer. The control volume for each pool extended to the base of the surficial aquifer and covered an area defined to exceed the maximum inundated area for each pool during 2004–12 by 0.5 foot. Net groundwater flow was computed as a lumped value and was either positive or negative, with a negative value indicating downward or lateral leakage from the control volume and a positive value indicating upward leakage to the control volume.

The annual water budget for Tsala Apopka Lake was calculated using a combination of field observations and remotely sensed data for each of three pools and for the composite three pool area. A digital elevation model at a 5-foot grid spacing and bathymetric survey data were used to define the land-surface elevation and volume of each pool and to calculate the changes in inundated area with change in lake stage. Continuous lake-stage and groundwater-level data were used to define the change in storage for each pool. The rainfall data used in the water-budget calculations were based on daily radar reflectance data and measured rainfall from weather stations. Evapotranspiration was computed as a function of reference evapotranspiration, adjusted to actual evapotranspiration using a monthly land-cover coefficient (based on evapotranspiration measurements at stations located in representative landscapes). Surface-water inflows and outflows were determined using stage data collected at a series of streamgages installed primarily at the water-control structures. Discharge was measured under varying flow regimes and ratings were developed for the water-control structures. The discharge data collected during the study period were used to calibrate a surface-water flow model for 2004–12. Flows predicted by the model were used in the water-budget analysis. Net groundwater flow was determined as the residual term in the water-budget equation.

The results of the water-budget analysis indicate that rainfall was the largest input of water to Tsala Apopka Lake, whereas evapotranspiration was the largest output. For the 2004–12 analysis period, surface-water inflow accounted for 11 percent of the inputs, net groundwater inflow accounted for 1 percent of inputs (annual periods with positive net groundwater flow were included as inputs, while annual periods with negative net groundwater flow were counted as outputs), and rainfall accounted for the remaining 88 percent. For the same period, the outputs consisted of 2 percent surface-water outflow, 12 percent net groundwater outflow, and 86 percent evapotranspiration. Net groundwater inflows and surface-water/groundwater storage were negligible during the water-budget period but could be important components of the budget in individual years.

The net groundwater flow was negative (downward) for 8 out of the 9 years modeled (2004–12), indicating that the Tsala Apopka Lake study area was primarily a recharge area for the underlying Upper Floridan aquifer during this time period. Groundwater-level elevation in paired wells (adjacent wells completed in the surficial aquifer and Upper Floridan aquifer) typically was higher in the surficial aquifer than the Upper Floridan aquifer. However, hydraulic head data indicate that the surficial aquifer often has discharge potential to the surface-water system, especially in the low lying areas near the major lakes. Surficial-aquifer water levels were often higher than lake stages, especially during wet periods, which is likely an indication of aquifer-to-lake seepage in these areas. East of the major lakes, hydraulic head data were nearly equal in the surficial aquifer and Upper Floridan aquifer, which is an indication that the Upper Floridan aquifer is unconfined. Based on deuterium and oxygen stable isotope data collected in December 2011 and December 2012, there was no evidence of recharge to the Upper Floridan aquifer from the wetlands east of the major lakes; aquifer isotopic ratios did not indicate an enriched source, which is typical of lake and wetland sources. West of the major lakes, there was evidence of enriched isotopic ratios in water samples from the Upper Floridan aquifer. Differences in hydraulic head at paired wells in the surficial aquifer and Upper Floridan aquifer indicated that the surficial aquifer has the potential to recharge the Upper Floridan aquifer in the western part of the pools and west of the major lakes.

Suggested Citation

McBride, W.S., Metz, P.A., Ryan, P.J., Fulkerson, Mark, and Downing, H.C., 2017, Groundwater levels, geochemistry, and water budget of the Tsala Apopka Lake system, west-central Florida, 2004–12: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2017–5132, 100 p.,

ISSN: 2328-0328 (online)

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgments
  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Surface-Water Hydrology
  • Climatic, Physiographic, Geologic, and Hydrogeologic Setting
  • Methods
  • Groundwater Levels
  • Geochemistry
  • Water Budget
  • Summary
  • References Cited
  • Appendix 1. Detailed Description of Methods of Discharge Computation and Rating Development

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Groundwater levels, geochemistry, and water budget of the Tsala Apopka Lake system, west-central Florida, 2004–12
Series title:
Scientific Investigations Report
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Reston, VA
Contributing office(s):
xi, 100 p.
United States
Other Geospatial:
Tsala Apopka Lake System
Online Only (Y/N):