The population of the study area was 9.3 million in 1990. The cities of Jacksonville, Orlando, St. Petersburg, Tallahassee, and Tampa, Florida, and parts of Atlanta and Savannah, Georgia, are located in the study area. Forest and agricultural areas are the most common land uses in the study area, accounting for 48 percent and 25 percent of the study area, respectively. Climatic conditions range from temperate in Atlanta, Georgia, where mean annual temperature is about 61.3 degrees Fahrenheit, to subtropical in Tampa, Florida, where mean annual temperature is about 72.4 degrees Fahrenheit. Long-term average precipitation (1961-90) ranges from 43.9 inches per year in Tampa, Florida, and 44.6 in Macon, Georgia, to 65.7 inches per year in Tallahassee, Florida. Floods in the study area result from frontal systems, hurricanes, tropical storms, or severe thunderstorms; droughts are not common in the study area, especially in the Florida part of the study area due to extensive maritime exposure.
The primary physical and cultural characteristics in the study area include physiography, soils and land resource provinces, geologic setting, ground-water systems, surface-water systems, climate, floods, droughts, population, land use, and water use. Factors affecting water quality in the study area are land use (primarily urban and agricultural land uses), water use in coastal areas, hydrogeology, ground-water/surface-water interaction, geology, and climate. Surface-water quality problems in urban areas have occurred in the Ogeechee, Canoochee, Ocmulgee, St. Marys, Alapaha, Withlacoochee (north), Santa Fe, Ochlockonee, St. Johns, and Oklawaha Rivers and include nitrogen and phosphorus loading, low dissolved oxygen, elevated bacteria, sediment, and turbidity, and increased concentrations of metals. In agricultural areas, surface-water quality problems include elevated nitrogen and phosphorus concentrations, erosion and sedimentation and have occurred in the Ocmulgee, St. Marys, Santa Fe, Ochlockonee, St. Johns, Oklawaha, Withlacoochee (South), Hillsborough, and Alafia Rivers. Ground water-quality problems such as saltwater intrusion have occurred mostly in coastal areas and were caused by excessive withdrawals.