ABSTRACT: Saltwater intrusion into freshwater aquifers has resulted in increased chloride concentrations in water from some wells in northeastern Florida. The principal areas of saltwater intrusion in the Floridan aquifer system in the study area are east-central Duval County, the southern two-thirds of St. Johns County, and along the coast. At least five possible mechanisms of saltwater movement, some more plausible than others, could explain the observed increases in chloride concentration in the upper freshwater zones of the Floridan aquifer. They are (1) the presence of unflushed pockets of relict seawater; (2) lateral movement of the freshwater-saltwater interface off the northeastern Florida coast; (3) upconing of saltwater from deeper, salty zones below pumped wells; (4) upward leakage from deeper, salty water-bearing zones through failed, uncased, or improperly plugged or constructed wells; and (5) upward leakage from salty water-bearing zones through semiconfining units that are thin, or are breached by joints, faults, or collapse features.
Ground-water withdrawals in Duval, Nassau, and St. Johns Counties increased from about 183 to 254 million gallons per day from 1965 to 1988. Approximately 90 percent of the total withdrawal is from the Floridan aquifer system, resulting in long-term declines in the potentiometric surface of the Upper Floridan aquifer of about one-third to three-fourths foot per year. Hydraulic heads in the lower part of the aquifer system are naturally higher than in the upper parts. Declines in head in the upper part have further increased the vertical head difference between zones, increasing the potential for vertical ground-water flow from lower zones of higher head upward through structural deformities, leaky confining beds, and wells, to higher zones of lower head. Lower zones typically have higher chloride concentrations than do upper zones.
Concentrations of chemical constituents in water from the Floridan aquifer system vary both areally and with depth. Chloride concentrations in water in the Upper Floridan aquifer in the study area range from about 4.6 to 3,600 milligrams per liter. Data indicate that in much of the study area, water in the upper zone of the Lower Floridan aquifer generally is slightly more mineralized than water from the overlying Upper Floridan aquifer. Water from the Fernandina permeable zone varies in quality from fresh to saline. Chemical analyses of water from five monitoring wells tapping this zone indicate maximum chloride concentrations of 16,800 milligrams per liter.
The potential for saltwater contamination of the freshwater-bearing zones probably will continue to increase in northeastern Florida as artesian pressure in the upper freshwater zones continues to decline. Implementation of wise water-management strategies could, however, reduce the potential for saltwater intrusion.