Predictions of Groundwater Levels and Spring Flow in Response to Future Pumpage and Potential Future Droughts in the Barton Springs Segment of the Edwards Aquifer

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A two-dimensional numerical groundwater-flow model was developed for the Barton Springs segment of the Edwards aquifer to evaluate groundwater availability and predict water levels and spring flow in response to increased pumpage and droughts from 2000 through 2050. A steady-state model was developed on the basis of average recharge for a 20-yr period (1979 through 1998) and pumpage values for 1989. Hydraulic conductivity zones (10) were adjusted to obtain good agreement between measured and simulated hydraulic heads. Zones of hydraulic conductivity ranged from 1 to 1,000 ft/d. We conducted transient simulations using recharge and pumping data for a 10-yr period from 1989 through 1998 that includes periods of low and high water levels. Good agreement was found between measured and simulated flow at Barton Springs (root mean square error [RMSE, average of squared differences in measured and simulated discharges] 17 cfs) and between measured and simulated water levels in many of the monitoring wells (mean RMSE 40 ft). The simulation results overestimate spring discharge by about 10 cfs during low flow periods. To assess the impact of future pumping and potential future droughts on groundwater availability, we conducted transient simulations using extrapolated pumpage for a 10-yr period (2041 through 2050) and using average recharge for a 3-yr period and recharge from the 1950s drought for the remaining 7 yr. Results for this scenario predict that flow in Barton Springs will become very low ( 4 cfs) toward the end of the drought. Because of the bias in the simulation results, the combination of drought and future pumpage could result in no discharge at Barton Springs. Additional scenarios were simulated that included current pumpage and no pumpage. These simulations indicate that with current pumpage, spring discharge will decrease to levels similar to those calculated for the end of the 1950s drought (11 cfs). No pumpage resulted in discharges as low as 17 cfs. Actual flows, which may be about 7 cfs because of the bias in the simulation results, indicate that drought conditions similar to those of the 1950s will require no pumpage if spring discharges similar to those of the 1950s are to be maintained.


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