A study was conducted to examine the potential for saltwater intrusion into the lower Tamiami aquifer beneath Bonita Springs in southwestern Florida. Field data were collected, and constant- and variable-density ground-water flow simulations were performed that: (1) spatially quantified modern and seasonal stresses, (2) identified potential mechanisms of saltwater intrusion, and (3) estimated the potential extent of saltwater intrusion for the area of concern.
MODFLOW and the inverse modeling routine UCODE were used to spatially quantify modern and seasonal stresses by calibrating a constant-density ground-water flow model to field data collected in 1996. The model was calibrated by assuming hydraulic conductivity parameters were accurate and by estimating unmonitored ground-water pumpage and potential evapotranspiration with UCODE. Uncertainty in these estimated parameters was quantified with 95-percent confidence intervals. These confidence intervals indicate more uncertainty (or less reliability) in the estimates of unmonitored ground-water pumpage than estimates of pan-evaporation multipliers, because of the nature and distribution of observations used during calibration. Comparison of simulated water levels, streamflows, and net recharge with field data suggests the model is a good representation of field conditions.
Potential mechanisms of saltwater intrusion into the lower Tamiami aquifer include: (1) lateral inland movement of the freshwater-saltwater interface from the southwestern coast of Florida; (2) upward leakage from deeper saline water-bearing zones through natural upwelling and upconing, both of which could occur as diffuse upward flow through semiconfining layers, conduit flow through karst features, or pipe flow through leaky artesian wells; (3) downward leakage of saltwater from surface-water channels; and (4) movement of unflushed pockets of relict seawater. Of the many potential mechanisms of saltwater intrusion, field data and variable-density ground-water flow simulations suggest that upconing is of utmost concern, and lateral encroachment is of second-most concern. This interpretation is uncertain, however, because the predominance of saltwater intrusion through leaky artesian wells with connection to deeper, more saline, and higher pressure aquifers was difficult to establish.
Effective management of ground-water resources in southwestern Florida requires an understanding of the potential extent of saltwater intrusion in the lower Tamiami aquifer near Bonita Springs. Variable-density, ground-water flow simulations suggest that when saltwater is at dynamic equilibrium with 1996 seasonal stresses, the extent of saltwater intrusion is about 100 square kilometers areally and 70,000 hectare-meters volumetrically. The volumetric extent of saltwater intrusion was most sensitive to changes in recharge, ground-water pumpage, sea level, salinity of the Gulf of Mexico, and the potentiometric surface of the sandstone aquifer, respectively.