Geology and hydrology of the Edwards Aquifer in the San Antonio area, Texas

Water-Resources Investigations Report 95-4186

Prepared in cooperation with the San Antonio Water System



The Edwards aquifer, which is the sole source of water for the city of San Antonio, is one of the most permeable and productive carbonate aquifers in the United States. The aquifer is composed of extensively faulted, fractured, and cavernous limestone and dolomite of Early Cretaceous age lying within the Balcones fault zone a series of normal en echelon strike faults that separate the Edwards Plateau from the Gulf Coastal Plain in south Texas. Along segments of some faults, the entire thickness of the aquifer is displaced vertically, and these faults then act as barriers to downdip ground-water flow.

The large porosity and exceptional permeability of the unconfined part of the Edwards aquifer result from the dissolution of limestone by circulating ground water and development of a cavernous network along fractures. The large porosity and permeability of the freshwater part of the confined Edwards aquifer result primarily from dedolomitization. The small permeability of the saline-water part of the confined aquifer is caused by the limited interconnection between the pores in the rock matrix and by the lack of substantial dissolution along fractures.

The large transmissivity of the Edwards aquifer is indicated by the hundreds of highyielding wells, small hydraulic gradients, and large spring discharges. The determined transmissivity throughout most of the confined freshwater aquifer ranges from 430,000 to 2,200,000 feet squared per day; the determined transmissivity of the unconfined aquifer generally is less than 430,000 feet squared per day. Faulting causes the aquifer to be highly anisotropic, and simulation indicates anisotropy ratios ranging from 0.0:1 to 1:1.

The ground-water-flow system of the Edwards aquifer includes several components. These include a catchment area on the Edwards Plateau where the unconfined aquifer receives direct recharge, an area of confining beds crossed by streams draining the Edwards Plateau, a major recharge area within the Balcones fault zone where streams lose flow directly into the unconfined Edwards aquifer, and the confined Edwards aquifer that consists of the freshwater and salinewater zones.

Water entering the Edwards aquifer in the Balcones fault zone moves downdip in a generally southeasterly direction into the confined parts of the aquifer. In the confined aquifer, flow is toward the east and northeast under low hydraulic gradients through fractured, highly transmissive limestone and ultimately discharges at large springs and wells. All of the base flow and some of the storm runoff of streams crossing the recharge area infiltrates to the unconfined aquifer. On the basis of streamflow losses, the average annual recharge for 1934-88 was 635,500 acre-feet.

Freshwater discharges from the Edwards aquifer primarily from wells, springs, and seeps. Beginning in 1968, annual discharge from the aquifer has consistently exceeded average annual recharge largely because of a doubling of well pumpage. However, total springflow also increased because of greater-than-average recharge during most years since the late 1960's.

The total volume of circulating freshwater in the Edwards aquifer is about 45 million acrefeet. Long-term hydrographs at San Antonio indicate no net decline in ground-water levels during 1911-87; thus, there was no net loss of water from storage in the freshwater zone of the Edwards aquifer during that long-term period, assuming the San Antonio hydrograph represents the entire aquifer. However, short-term changes in water levels result largely from the variability of precipitation as indicated by severe declines during the drought of the late 1940's to middle 1950's and by rises to record highs during the abnormally wet years in the 1970's and 1980's.

The principal components of the groundwater budget (recharge, springflow, and pumpage) have varied greatly over 55 years (1934-88) of pertinent hydrologic records. Annual recharge varied from about 44,000 to 2,000,000 acre-feet. Annual springflow varied from about 70,000 acrefeet to about 580,000 acre-feet. Pumpage increased from about 100,000 acre-feet annually in the early 1930's to more than 500,000 acre-feet annually during some years in the 1980's. However, the average annual recharge of 635,500 acrefeet is about equal to the sum of the average annual springflow (359,500 acre-feet) and average annual pumpage (273,000 acre-feet), indicating no longterm decrease in ground-water storage because of springflow and pumpage.

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Geology and hydrology of the Edwards Aquifer in the San Antonio area, Texas
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
Document: v, 64 p.; 12 Plates: 28.00 x 19.39 inches or smaller
United States
Other Geospatial:
Edwards Aquifer
Online Only (Y/N):
Additional Online Files (Y/N):