Edwards Balcones Fault Zone Aquifer
The Edwards aquifer is the most transmissive of all the aquifers in Texas and Oklahoma. Large discharges from springs and from flowing and pumped wells attest to the highly permeable nature of the aquifer. The area underlain by the Edwards aquifer is a combination of agricultural and ranch land and areas of dense population, including the cities of Austin in Travis County and San Antonio in Bexar County. It has been designated a sole source aquifer by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and is the primary source of water for San Antonio, America's eighth largest city. The aquifer is separated into three parts by a groundwater divide and the Colorado River.
Following deposition of Cretaceous rocks, tectonic movement caused the relative uplift of the Edwards Plateau and subsidence of the Gulf of Mexico, and a number of en echelon, northeastward-trending faults formed along the Balcones Fault Zone. The Edwards aquifer is generally coincident with the fault zone. The downdip boundary of the aquifer is largely fault controlled. As a result of the faulting, the chemical quality of the water in the Edwards aquifer can change abruptly in a very short distance across a zone often referred to as the "saline-water line."
As streams cross the Balcones Fault Zone, water percolates downward along the faults where permeability might be greatly enhanced by partial dissolution of limestone. Secondary sources of recharge are direct infiltration of precipitation that falls on aquifer outcrop areas, internal flow of groundwater from the Trinity aquifer where the Edwards and the Trinity aquifers are juxtaposed, and upward leakage from the underlying Trinity aquifer where an upward vertical head gradient exists. Direct recharge to the aquifer can be quite rapid through sinkholes. Water levels in wells completed in the Edwards aquifer rise immediately and springflows increase quickly after major recharge events, thus attesting to a dynamic flow system and the rapid movement of large volumes of water.
Photos of Karst Features
Karst produces distinctive topographic features that can be prominent and distinctive. There are photographs available of the following karst features in the Edwards Balcones Fault Zone aquifer:
- In-Stream Sinkholes
- Endangered Species
- Mahler, B.J., Valdes, D., Musgrove, MaryLynn, and Massei, N. (2008) Nutrient dynamics as indicators of karst processes – Comparison of the Chalk aquifer (Normandy, France) and the Edwards aquifer (Texas, U.S.A.): Journal of Contaminant Hydrology, vol. 98, p. 36-49.
- Mahler, B.J., Musgrove, MaryLynn, Wong, C.I., and Sample, Thomas L. (2011) Recent (2008-10) water quality in the Barton Spring segment of the Edwards Aquifer and its contributing zone, central Texas, with emphasis on factors affecting nutrients and bacteria: USGS Scientific Investigations Report 2011-5139, 66 p.
- Musgrove, MaryLynn, Fahlquist, Lynne, Houston, N.A., Lindgren, R.J., and Ging, P.B. (2009) Geochemical evolution processes and water-quality observations based on results of the National Water-Quality Assessment Program in the San Antonio segment of the Edwards aquifer: USGS Scientific Investigations Report 2010-5129, 93 p.
Featured Studies and Datasets
Aquifer-scale studies and the datasets they produce are a key component to understanding how karst aquifers behave, and the quality of water within them.
- Barton Springs Characterization — A 2-year water-quality study of the 4th largest spring in Texas, which produced an interpretive report.
- Barton Springs Aquifer Groundwater Quality — Annual summertime sampling of about a dozen groundwater wells, during non-stormflow conditions, for a variety of constituents.
- National Water-Quality Assessment, South-Central Texas — A program to describe the status and trends in water quality of a large, representative part of the Nation’s surface-water and groundwater resources.
There are 5 USGS scientists you can contact for more information about this aquifer.
Additional information can be found at The Edwards Aquifer Website (by Gregg Eckhardt).