WRI 96-4146

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Sacks, L.A., and Tihansky, A.B., 1996, Geochemical and Isotopic Composition of Ground Water, with Emphasis on Sources of Sulfate, in the Upper Floridan Aquifer and Intermediate Aquifer System in Southwest Florida: U.S. Geological Survey Water-Resources Investigations Report 96-4146, 67 p.


In southwest Florida, sulfate concentrations in water from the Upper Floridan aquifer and overlying intermediate aquifer system are commonly above 250 milligrams per liter (the drinking water standard), particularly in coastal areas. Possible sources of sulfate include dissolution of gypsum from the deeper part of the Upper Floridan aquifer or the middle confining unit, saltwater in the aquifer, and saline waters from the middle confining unit and Lower Floridan aquifer. The sources of sulfate and geochemical processes controlling ground-water composition were evaluated for the Peace and Myakka River Basins and adjacent coastal areas of southwest Florida. Samples were collected from 63 wells and a saline spring, including wells finished at different depth intervals of the Upper Floridan aquifer and intermediate aquifer system at about 25 locations. Sampling focused along three ground-water flow paths (selected based on a predevelopment potentiometric-surface map). Ground water was analyzed for major ions, selected trace constituents, dissolved organic carbon, and stable isotopes (delta deuterium, oxygen-18, carbon-13 of inorganic carbon, and sulfur-34 of sulfate and sulfide); the ratio of strontium-87 to strontium-86 was analyzed for waters along one of the flow paths.

Chemical and isotopic data indicate that dedolomitization reactions (gypsum and dolomite dissolution and calcite precipitation) control the chemical composition of water in the Upper Floridan aquifer in inland areas. This is confirmed by mass-balance modeling between wells in the shallowest interval in the aquifer along the flow paths. However, gypsum occurs deeper in the aquifer than these wells. Upwelling of sulfate-rich water that previously dissolved gypsum in deeper parts of the aquifer is a more likely source of sulfate than gypsum dissolution in shallow parts of the aquifer. This deep ground water moves to shallower zones in the aquifer discharge area.

Saltwater from the Upper Floridan aquifer has not dissolved significant amounts of gypsum compared to fresher water in the aquifer. This is consistent with a shallow seawater source for the saltwater, rather than a deeper source from the underlying middle confining unit or Lower Floridan aquifer, which would have elevated sulfate concentrations. Ion exchange and dolomitization may be important reactions for saltwater in the aquifer. According to geochemical modeling, the freshwater end member for water in the saltwater mixing zone in the southwestern part of the study area is not upgradient water from the Upper Floridan aquifer that dissolved gypsum. Instead, this water appears to be isolated from the regional freshwater flow system and may be part of a more localized flow system.

The chemical and isotopic composition of water in the intermediate aquifer system is controlled by differences in extent of reactions with aquifer minerals, upward leakage from the Upper Floridan aquifer, and saltwater mixing. In inland areas, water generally is characterized by relatively low sulfate concentrations (less than 250 milligrams per liter) and differences in extent of carbonate mineral dissolution. Some inland waters have elevated chloride concentrations, which may be related to evaporation prior to recharge. In coastal Sarasota County and in isolated inland areas, water from the intermediate aquifer system has high sulfate concentrations characteristic of dedolomitization waters from the Upper Floridan aquifer. The chemical and isotopic composition of these waters is controlled by upward leakage from the Upper Floridan aquifer, which naturally occurs in the discharge area but may be locally enhanced by pumping or interconnection of wells open to both aquifer systems. In western Charlotte County, the waters are dominated by sodium and chloride, and their compositions are consistent with mixing between saltwater and inland intermediate aquifer system water that has not been influenced by discharge from the Upper Floridan aquifer.

Deeply circulating ground-water flow paths apparently control the high sulfate concentrations in the shallow part of the Upper Floridan aquifer in western Sarasota County. In the recharge area, water moves downward to deep parts of the aquifer and dissolves gypsum. This dissolution occurs within the freshwater flow system, rather than the source being from diffusion or upward leakage of water from the middle confining unit or the Lower Floridan aquifer. Downgradient, this sulfate-rich water moves upward to shallower parts of the aquifer and into the overlying intermediate aquifer system, landward of the saltwater mixing zone. In the vicinity of the Peace River, higher sulfate concentrations are the result of upwelling because of discharging conditions in the aquifer. This discharge probably causes less freshwater to move toward the coast, and flow paths there may not circulate as deep as in western Sarasota County, where sulfate concentrations are much higher.

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