Relation of specific conductance in ground water to intersection of flow paths by wells, and associated major ion and nitrate geochemistry, Barton Springs Segment of the Edwards Aquifer, Austin, Texas, 1978-2003

Bradley D. Garner
Barbara Mahleer

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Understanding of karst flow systems can be complicated by the presence of solution-enlarged conduits, which can transmit large volumes of water through the aquifer rapidly. If the geochemistry at a well can be related to streamflow or spring discharge (springflow), or both, the relations can indicate the presence of recent recharge in water at the well, which in turn might indicate that the well intersects a conduit (and thus a major flow path). Increasing knowledge of the occurrence and distribution of conduits in the aquifer can contribute to better understanding of aquifer framework and function. To that end, 26 wells in the Barton Springs segment of the Edwards aquifer, Austin, Texas, were investigated for potential intersection with conduits; 26 years of arbitrarily timed specific conductance measurements in the wells were compared to streamflow in five creeks that provide recharge to the aquifer and were compared to aquifer flow conditions as indicated by Barton Springs discharge. A nonparametric statistical test (Spearman's rho) was used to divide the 26 wells into four groups on the basis of correlation of specific conductance of well water to streamflow or spring discharge, or both. Potential relations between conduit intersection by wells and ground-water geochemistry were investigated through analysis of historical major ion and nitrate geochemistry for wells in each of the four groups. Specific conductance at nine wells was negatively correlated with both streamflow and spring discharge, or streamflow only. These correlations were interpreted as evidence of an influx of surface-water recharge during periods of high streamflow and the influence at the wells of water from a large, upgradient part of the aquifer; and further interpreted as indicating that four wells intersect major aquifer flow paths and five wells intersect minor aquifer flow paths (short, tributary conduits). Specific conductance at six wells was positively correlated with spring discharge, which was interpreted as not intersecting a f