WRIR 00-4030

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Swancar, Amy, Lee, T.M., and O'Hare, T.M., 2000, Hydrogeologic setting, water budget, and preliminary analysis of ground-water exchange at Lake Starr, a seepage lake in Polk County, Florida: Water-Resources Investigations Report 00-4030, 65 p.


Lake Starr, a 134-acre seepage lake of multiple-sinkhole origin on the Lake Wales Ridge of central Florida, was the subject of a detailed water-budget study from August 1996 through July 1998. The study monitored the effects of hydrogeologic setting, climate, and ground-water pumping on the water budget and lake stage.

The hydrogeologic setting of the Lake Starr basin differs markedly on the two sides of the lake. Ground water from the surficial aquifer system flows into the lake from the northwest side of the basin, and lake water leaks out to the surficial aquifer system on the southeast side of the basin. Lake Starr and the surrounding surficial aquifer system recharge the underlying Upper Floridan aquifer. The rate of recharge to the Upper Floridan aquifer is determined by the integrity of the intermediate confining unit and by the downward head gradient between the two aquifers. On the inflow side of the lake, the intermediate confining unit is more continuous, allowing ground water from the surficial aquifer system to flow laterally into the lake. Beneath the lake and on the southeast side of the basin, breaches in the intermediate confining unit enhance downward flow to the Upper Floridan aquifer, so that water flows both downward and laterally away from the lake through the ground-water flow system in these areas.

An accurate water budget, including evaporation measured by the energy-budget method, was used to calculate net ground-water flow to the lake, and to do a preliminary analysis of the relation of net ground-water fluxes to other variables. Water budgets constructed over different timeframes provided insight on processes that affect ground-water interactions with Lake Starr. Weekly estimates of net ground-water flow provided evidence for the occurrence of transient inflows from the nearshore basin, as well as the short-term effects of head in the Upper Floridan aquifer on ground-water exchange with the lake. Monthly water budgets showed the effects of wet and dry seasons, and provided evidence for ground-water inflow generated from the upper basin. Annual water budgets showed how differences in timing of rainfall and pumping stresses affected lake stage and lake ground-water interactions.

Lake evaporation measurements made during the study suggest that, on average, annual lake evaporation exceeds annual precipitation in the basin. Rainfall was close to the long-term average of 51.99 inches per year for the 2 years of the study (50.68 and 54.04 inches, respectively). Lake evaporation was 57.08 and 55.88 inches per year for the same 2 years, making net precipitation (rainfall minus evaporation) negative during both years. If net precipitation to seepage lakes in this area is negative over the long-term, then the ability to generate net ground-water inflow from the surrounding basin plays an important role in sustaining lake levels.

Evaporation exceeded rainfall by a similar amount for both years of the study, but net ground-water flow differed substantially between the 2 years. The basin contributed net ground-water inflow to the lake in both years, however, net ground-water inflow was not sufficient to make up for the negative net precipitation during the first year, and the lake fell 4.9 inches. During the second year, net ground-water inflow exceeded the difference between evaporation and rainfall and the lake rose by 12.7 inches. The additional net ground-water inflow in the second year was due to both an increase in the amount of gross ground-water inflow and a decrease in lake leakage (ground-water outflow). Ground-water inflow was greater during the second year because more rain fell during the winter, when evaporative losses were low, resulting in greater ground-water recharge. However, decreased lake leakage during this year was probably at least as important as increased ground-water inflow in explaining the difference in net ground-water flow to the lake between the 2 years. Estimates of lake leakage based on a relation between net ground-water flow and head in the Upper Floridan aquifer could easily account for the differences in net ground-water exchange with the lake in the 2 years of the study. The relation between net ground-water flow and head in the Upper Floridan aquifer implied that an estimated 1-foot increase in the average Upper Floridan aquifer head from the first to the second year could account for reduced leakage of about 8.5 million cubic feet of water from Lake Starr, or an additional 17 inches of lake stage over a year.

The first year of the study was representative of typical rainfall patterns, where most of the rainfall occurs during the summer. If rainfall and lake evaporation in the first year reflect long-term average conditions, the stage of Lake Starr will decrease unless ground-water inflow increases, or leakage decreases, compared to that year.

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