In the mantled karst terrain of Florida, the size of the catchment delivering ground-water inflow to lakes is often considerably smaller than the topographically defined drainage basin. The size is determined by a balance of factors that act individually to enhance or diminish the hydraulic connection between the lake and the adjacent surficial aquifer, as well as the hydraulic connection between the surficial aquifer and the deeper limestone aquifer. Factors affecting ground-water exchange and the size of the ground-water catchment for lakes in mantled karst terrain were examined by: (1) reviewing the physical and hydrogeological characteristics of 14 Florida lake basins with available ground-water inflow estimates, and (2) simulating ground-water flow in hypothetical lake basins. Variably-saturated flow modeling was used to simulate a range of physical and hydrogeologic factors observed at the 14 lake basins. These factors included: recharge rate to the surficial aquifer, thickness of the unsaturated zone, size of the topographically defined basin, depth of the lake, thickness of the surficial aquifer, hydraulic conductivity of the geologic units, the location and size of karst subsidence features beneath and onshore of the lake, and the head in the Upper Floridan aquifer.
Catchment size and the magnitude of ground-water inflow increased with increases in recharge rate to the surficial aquifer, the size of the topographically defined basin, hydraulic conductivity in the surficial aquifer, the degree of confinement of the deeper Upper Floridan aquifer, and the head in the Upper Floridan aquifer. The catchment size and magnitude of ground-water inflow increased with decreases in the number and size of karst subsidence features in the basin, and the thickness of the unsaturated zone near the lake. Model results, although qualitative, provided insights into: (1) the types of lake basins in mantled karst terrain that have the potential to generate small and large amounts of ground-water inflow, and (2) the location of ground-water catchments that could be managed to safeguard lake water quality. Knowledge of how ground-water catchments are related to lakes could be used by water-resource managers to recommend setback distances for septic tank drain fields, agricultural land uses, and other land-use practices that contribute nutrients and major ions to lakes.