WRIR 1-73

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Faulkner, G.L., 1973, Geohydrology of the Cross-Florida Barge Canal Area With Special Reference to the Ocala Vicinity: Water-Resources Investigations Report 1-73, 116 p.


The Cross-Florida Barge Canal route commences at Palatka on the St. Johns River, about 75 miles upstream from the Atlantic Ocean, and extends 110 miles southwestward across Peninsular Florida into deep water in the Gulf of Mexico near Yankeetown. The canal will be equipped with five locks, each 600 feet long and 84 feet wide, and the channel will be a minimum of 12 feet deep and 150 feet wide. From near Ocala northeastward, the canal channel will replace much of the natural channel of the Oklawaha River, and will be excavated into beds of the so-called shallow sand aquifer of Miocene age and younger, which overlies limestone of the Floridan aquifer. Westward from Ocala, most of the canal will be excavated below the potentiometric surface into limestone and dolomite of the Floridan aquifer. Water levels of Rodman, Eureka, and Inglis Pools will be controlled by dams and spillways with the limited exchange of water between the pools and the aquifers. The water levels in the Summit Pools will fluctuate with the natural changes in the ground-water level of the Floridan aquifer, although the stage of the pool will be controlled partly by the stage held in the Eureka Pool. A dynamic inflow-outflow relationship will exist between the Summit Pool and the Floridan aquifer.

The Floridan aquifer in the canal area is 1,000 to 1,200 feet thick and consists of limestone and dolomite of middle Eocene Miocene age, including from older to younger, the Lake City, Avon Park, and Ocala limestones plus permeable sandy, dolomitic limestone in the lower part of the Hawthorn Formation. It is possible that most of the flow to the two major springs in the area occurs in the upper 100 feet or so of the aquifer in the Ocala Limestone. The aquifer is underlain by the Oldsmar limestone of early Eocene age and is overlain by sand, clayey sand, clay and shell beds of Miocene through Holocene age, in thickness from a few feet to 300 feet. The permeable beds overlying the Floridan aquifer constitute the shallow aquifer, while the poorly permeable ones act as confining beds where the Floridan aquifer is under artesian conditions.

A north-south line drawn separating the head of Silver Springs on the west from the Oklawaha River on the east marks the approximate western limit of a continuous blanket of materials of Miocene-Pliocene(?) age covering the rocks of the Floridan aquifer. East of the line, much of the aquifer is under artesian conditions, particularly in the Oklawaha River valley, although in some areas east of the valley, direct recharge through thick permeable Miocene-Pliocene(?) sands occurs. West of the line, only scattered remnants of a once continuous Miocene-Pliocene(?) cover remain. Lack of the cover is a result of erosion on the crest and flank of the Ocala Uplift, a broad northwest-southeast trending anticlinal upwarp, the axis of which is crossed by the canal route in the Dunnellon area. Over most of this area the Floridan aquifer is unconfined and receives direct recharge through a cover of a few tens of feet of sand and clayey sand of Quaternary age.

Tensional stresses during the structural evolution of the Ocala Uplift produced an intersecting system of fractures and normal faults in rocks of the Floridan aquifer. The fractures and faults are important controls for orientation of solution channels and, therefore, for development of ground-water circulation patterns.

When the system surface streams, which once drained the Barge Canal area, eroded the poorly permeable Miocene-Pliocene(?) cover from the flanks of the Ocala Uplift, surface runoff was reduced and precipitation began to directly infiltrate the underlying limestones. Now only principal streams remain, such as the Oklawaha and Withlacoochee Rivers and a few short tributaries, while one of the most highly developed subsurface drainage systems in the world has evolved in cavernous limestone of the Floridan aquifer. Two of the larger freshwater springs in the world now discharge from the Floridan aquifer in the canal area. Silver Springs near Ocala discharges an average 531 mgd (million gallons per day) down the 4-mile long Silver River, which flows on poorly permeable beds to the Oklawaha River. Rainbow Springs near Dunnellon discharges on average 468 mgd from numerous orifices in the bed of the 5-mile-long Rainbow River, which flows into the Withlacoochee River. The heads of the springs have migrated to their present positions partly because of a tendency of ground-water levels to decline as permeability in the aquifer is increased due to removal of limestone by solution, and because of mechanical erosion of the limestone in the vicinity of the spring heads. Also, points of principal spring discharges have shifted in the past due to changes in ground-water levels in response to changes in sea level. The subsurface drainage system is continuing to evolve today, as evidenced in part by frequent occurrence of new sinkholes and by the presence of significant amounts of calcium bicarbonate in the spring waters.

Rodman Pool, at the east end of the canal, is separated from the Floridan aquifer by poorly permeable materials. The pool's operating water level will be only a few feet above the potentiometric surface at the downstream end, and at or slightly below the potentiometric surface at the upstream end. Little exchange of water between the Rodman Pool and the Floridan aquifer is expected. Eureka Pool, just upstream from Rodman Pool, will also be separated from the Floridan aquifer by poorly permeable beds. However, the stage of the pool will be about 15 feet higher than the natural potentiometric surface at the pool's downstream end, and some seepage into the Floridan aquifer is anticipated through faults and leaky parts of the poorly permeable beds, with a consequent rise in ground-water levels in areas adjacent to the lower end of the pool. Possibilities for particulate contamination of the aquifer will tend to be minimized because of the filtering capacity of the materials through which water must pass to reach the aquifer, although the natural filter will not preclude movement into the aquifer of contaminants which might become dissolved in the pool waters. No significant interchange of water between the pool and the aquifer is expected at the upstream end of the Eureka Pool. Present construction plans indicate an operating stage for Eureka Pool which will range between 38 and 40 feet above mean sea level, although it is possible to dredge the pool deep enough to permit a range in stage of 36 to 40 feet. A backwater effect extending up Silver River from the Eureka Pool is expected to regulate the stage at the head of Silver Springs between 39 and 44 feet above mean sea level if the pool ranges between 36 and 40 feet. If Eureka Pool ranges only between 38 and 40 feet, the range of stage at the head of the springs should be about 41 to 44 feet above mean sea level. From Inglis Lock west, the canal will have direct connection with the Gulf, and canal stage will fluctuate with the Gulf tide. Since the canal stage will be slightly lower than the adjacent ground-water levels along much of the reach, there will be some ground-water inflow to the canal.

No significant changes in the existing ground-water regime are expected in the vicinity of Inglis Pool, the first step up in the canal east of the Gulf. Existing ground-water and surface-water levels in the area will not change appreciable, and the natural stage and flow of Rainbow Springs, which will flow by way of Rainbow River into Inglis Pool, should not be affected by canal operations. A possible adverse effect of the canal on the Inglis Pool area could result if sea water is locked up from the Gulf through Inglis Lock. However, the high step of 25 feet at the lock, flushing action of continuous flow from Inglis Pool to the lower reaches of the Withlacoochee River, and use of possible preventive locking procedures should minimize the problem.

The potential for adverse effects on the ground-water regime is greatest in the area of the Summit Pool. Through most of the length of the pool, the canal channel will be excavated into limestone of the Floridan aquifer to depths of 12 to 27 feet below the potentiometric surface. Changes that will take place in the ground-water flow system in the Silver Springs drainage area, once the canal is completed, were estimated by flow-net analysis. Variation in aquifer transmissivity was determined by calculating transmissivity in 25 different flow cells surrounding Silver Springs. Transmissivity in the 25 cells averages about 15,600,000 gpd/ft [2,090,000 ft2/day (feet squared)], but transmissivity in the six cells through which the Summit Pool passes ranges from 9,000,000 to 44,000,000 gpd/ft (1,210,000 to 5,900,000 ft2/day). Transmissivity was used to compute static stage of the Summit Pool under given ground-water level conditions. Had the canal existed in May 1968 and had the stage of Eureka Pool been held at 36 feet at the time, the static stage in Summit Pool would have been about 42.1 feet above mean sea level. Thus, a conceptual model of the changes in the potentiometric surface wrought by the finished canal was drawn, and zones of ground-water inflow and outflow were delineated. Most outflow from the Summit Pool to the aquifer should be limited to one 4-mile-long zone along the north side of the pool, about 5 miles south of Silver Springs. It is estimated that a water volume equivalent to about 8 percent of the daily flow of Silver Springs will enter the Summit Pool each day from the southern one-third of the Silver Springs drainage area. A like amount will reenter the aquifer at the main zone of outflow and move toward Silver Springs at an estimated average velocity of about 200 feet per day, if something close to the natural static stage of the pool is maintained by return pumpage of the lockage losses. At a velocity of 200 feet per day, water from the Summit Pool would discharge at Silver Springs about 140 days later. However, any estimate of velocity in the highly cavernous limestone aquifer in the area should be used with caution, because difficult to measure changes in porosity and thickness of major zones of flow may cause large variations in velocity.

If all lockage losses are returned to the Summit Pool by pumping from Eureka Pool, no net loss from the Silver Springs drainage area, except for some evaporation from the water surface in the canal and possible leakage around locks, will result from canal operations. The zone of outflow from the Summit Pool to the aquifer will be in a natural potentiometric trough, and the zone of inflow will be in a potentiometric ridge area. The equilibrium water level in the pool will tend to be about 1 foot higher than the altitude of the lowest level in the pre-canal potentiometric trough, and about 2 feet lower than the highest level on the pre-canal potentiometric ridge. West of the Silver Springs drainage area just east of Dunnellon Lock, in the area of a local potentiometric high, the water level in the Summit Pool is expected to be about 15 feet below the natural potentiometric surface. In most areas 2 to 3 miles away from the Summit Pool, effects of the canal on the natural potentiometric surface should be slight. The stage of the Summit Pool, judging from the 36-year record for ground-water level changes and the anticipated indirect effect of the controlled stage in Eureka Pool, should have a maximum of about 10.5 feet with a maximum water level of about 51.5 feet above mean sea level and a minimum of about 41.0 feet above mean sea level. Of particular importance in the Summit Pool is an implementation of well planned construction and operational procedures designed to minimize risks of ground-water contamination.