Description and Evaluation of Numerical Groundwater Flow Models for the Edwards Aquifer, South-Central Texas


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January 2009


A substantial number of public water system wells in south-central Texas withdraw groundwater from the karstic, highly productive Edwards aquifer. However, the use of numerical groundwater flow models to aid in the delineation of contributing areas for public water system wells in the Edwards aquifer is problematic because of the complex hydrogeologic framework and the presence of conduit-dominated flow paths in the aquifer. The U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, evaluated six published numerical groundwater flow models (all deterministic) that have been developed for the Edwards aquifer San Antonio segment or Barton Springs segment, or both. This report describes the models developed and evaluates each with respect to accessibility and ease of use, range of conditions simulated, accuracy of simulations, agreement with dye-tracer tests, and limitations of the models. These models are (1) GWSIM model of the San Antonio segment, a FORTRAN computer-model code that pre-dates the development of MODFLOW; (2) MODFLOW conduit-flow model of San Antonio and Barton Springs segments; (3) MODFLOW diffuse-flow model of San Antonio and Barton Springs segments; (4) MODFLOW Groundwater Availability Modeling [GAM] model of the Barton Springs segment; (5) MODFLOW recalibrated GAM model of the Barton Springs segment; and (6) MODFLOW–DCM (dual conductivity model) conduit model of the Barton Springs segment. The GWSIM model code is not commercially available, is limited in its application to the San Antonio segment of the Edwards aquifer, and lacks the ability of MODFLOW to easily incorporate newly developed processes and packages to better simulate hydrologic processes. MODFLOW is a widely used and tested code for numerical modeling of groundwater flow, is well documented, and is in the public domain. These attributes make MODFLOW a preferred code with regard to accessibility and ease of use. The MODFLOW conduit-flow model incorporates improvements over previous models by using

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USGS, Vol. 2,009, no. 5183 (2009).