Hydrogeology and predevelopment flow in the Texas Gulf Coast aquifer systems

Water-Resources Investigations Report 87-4248




A multilayered ground-water flow system exists in the Coastal Plain sediments of Texas. The Tertiary and Quaternary clastic deposits have an area! extent of 128,000 square miles onshore and in the Gulf of Mexico. Two distinct aquifer systems are recognized for the sediments, which range in thickness from a few feet to more than 12,000 feet. The older system the Texas coastal uplands aquifer system consists of four aquifers and two confining units in the Wilcox and Claiborne Groups. It is bounded from below by the practically impermeable Midway confining unit or by the top of the geopressured zone. It is bounded from above by the poorly permeable Vicksburg-Jackson confining unit, which separates it from the younger coastal lowlands aquifer system. The coastal lowlands aquifer system consists of five permeable zones and two confining units that range in age from Oligocene to Holocene. The hydrogeologic units of both systems are exposed in bands that parallel the coastline. The units dip and thicken toward the Gulf.

Quality of water in the aquifer systems varies greatly, with dissolved solids ranging from a few hundred to more than 200,000 milligrams per liter.

A three-dimensional, variable-density digital model was developed to simulate predevelopment flow in the aquifer systems, for which steady-state conditions were assumed. Horizontal hydraulic conductivities of the aquifers and permeable zones in the calibrated model range from 15 feet per day for the middle Wilcox aquifer, to 170 feet per day for the Holocene-upper Pleistocene aquifer. Vertical hydraulic conductivities range from 1 x 10-5 foot per day for the Vicksburg-Jackson confining unit, to 1 x 10-2 foot per day for four of the aquifers and permeable zones. The simulated values of transmissivity and leakance are functions of the percent of sand that is present in each model grid block.

There is a large range in precipitation across the study area, from about 21 inches per year in the west to about 56 inches per year in the east. Eastward from a line through Corpus Christi and San Antonio, average annual precipitation ranges from about 30 to about 56 inches. A few inches per year reaches the saturated zone in topographically high areas and is discharged in low areas as evapotranspiration, seepage, springflow, and stream base flow. A smaller amount of water flows through the aquifers and permeable zones downdip from the outcrop areas. This flow results in upward or downward leakage into adjacent hydrogeologic units, but is generally upward into overlying units.

Westward from the line through Corpus Christi and San Antonio, average annual precipitation ranges from about 30 to about 21 inches. The general pattern of flow in the aquifers and permeable zones is similar to that in the east, but rates of flow are somewhat smaller. In contrast to the east, ground-water discharge in the west is generally not visible. Evapotranspiration is the main mechanism for ground-water discharge, with most ground water being discharged through evapotranspiration by phreatophytes.

Simulated discharge and recharge rates in the combined outcrop areas of all units do not exceed 6 inches per year. The large rates occur in small, local topographically low and high areas. The average discharge rate simulated in the outcrops of the units is 0.45 inch per year. The recharge area is considerably smaller than the discharge area, and the average recharge rate over this smaller area is 0.74 inch per year.

Total simulated recharge in the outcrop areas is 269 million cubic feet per day, which is offset by an equal amount of discharge in the outcrop areas. The smallest rates of leakage are across the Vicksburg-Jackson confining unit, with downward and upward rates of less than one million cubic feet per day. The greatest rate of leakage is 47 million cubic feet per day upward into the Holocene-upper Pleistocene permeable zone.

Study Area

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Hydrogeology and predevelopment flow in the Texas Gulf Coast aquifer systems
Series title:
Water-Resources Investigations Report
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Austin, TX
Contributing office(s):
Texas Water Science Center
vii, 109 p.
United States
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