Karst Features and Water Resources in Florida and Puerto Rico
By Arturo E. Torres
Hydrologic Studies Chief
U.S. Geological Survey Florida Water Science Center-Tampa
This webinar was offered IN SPANISH on September 18, 2012 – click here to see the WebEx.
Abstract: Topographic landscape and geology produce distinctive karst and water resources features in Florida and Puerto Rico. Florida’s area (65,758 mi2) is about 19 times larger than the area of Puerto Rico (3,400 mi2), but its low topographic relief (highest point is 345 feet above mean sea level compared to Puerto Rico 3,400 feet) is significantly smaller than Puerto Rico thus creating differences in their overall hydrologic cycles and water budgets. Florida and Puerto Rico have hundreds, perhaps thousands of streams (Florida has over 1,700 streams and Puerto Rico an equal number or higher), but Puerto Rico mountainous steep gradients and torrential rains produce greater potential for surface runoff and flash flood events that channel large amounts of surface water into offshore coastal areas, not typical in Florida. Both places receive abundant rainfall amounts (55 inches in Florida versus 72 inches in Puerto Rico), but because of Florida’s geology and flatter topography, the number of lakes (over 7,800), wetlands (30 percent of the State landscape, including the Everglades), and springs (over 700) in Florida far exceed the number of these water-resources features in Puerto Rico. Because of Florida’s flat topography, groundwater recharge from rainfall is significantly larger than in Puerto Rico. Total groundwater withdrawals in Florida (4.2 billion gallons/day) are about 25 times greater than total groundwater withdrawals in Puerto Rico (160 million gallons/day).
The Florida platform underlies a sequence of carbonate rocks and limestone aquifers, some considered among the most productive aquifers in the world. High aquifer transmissivities reflect the presence of underground conduits and solution features. Extensive underwater caves have been mapped inland along the coastline, most associated with spring systems. Sinkholes are prevalent throughout the central region of the State, causing major home damages and losses to the economy. About 20 percent of the geology of Puerto Rico is composed of carbonate rocks and the most productive limestone aquifers are located in the north-central coastal area between Dorado and Arecibo. Karst features along the north coast (tower karst, mogotes, sinkholes), predominantly south of PR 2 are impressive and widely recognized by scientists throughout the world. Underground stream cave systems (Río Camuy Caves System in the Camuy-Hatillo-Lares area, Río Encantado in the Florida-Manati area, and Cuevas de Aguas Buenas) are the three best known cave systems in Puerto Rico which have attracted the attention of scientists and speleologists around the globe.
Water management and conservation practices in Florida have helped protect the water resources in Florida, including (1) the creation of five Water Management Districts, (2) the implementation of water reclamation/reuse program (Tampa-St. Pete has largest reclaimed system in the world; over 150 Mgal/d; the State reuses over 2Bgal/d), (3) the construction of a desalination plant in Tampa, and (4) the establishment of aquifer storage and recovery (ASR) systems. Puerto Rico water managers and scientists could learn much from these water management strategies.
Arturo Torres has a Bachelor’s Degree in Science in Civil Engineering from the School of Engineering at Mayaguez (1975) and a Master’s Degree in Science in Civil Engineering also from Mayaguez (1984). The title of his master thesis was “Hydrology of the Rio Camuy Caves System in Northwestern Puerto Rico.
Arturo worked in the U.S. Geological Survey Caribbean District Office from 1977 to 1993 in several positions, including Project chief, Groundwater specialist, Studies Section Chief, Assistant District Chief and Associate District Chief.
In 1993, Arturo moved to the USGS Tampa Sub-District Office where he served as the Hydrologic Studies Chief and Groundwater Specialist (1993-2001). Between 2001 and 2008, Arturo was the USGS Deputy Coordinator for the Greater Everglades Priority Ecosystems Science (GEPES) and the USGS liaison with the South Florida Water Management District in West Palm Beach. From 2008- to present he has served as the USGS Florida Water Science Center-Tampa Office Hydrologic Studies Chief. On this coming September 30, 2012, Arturo will retire from the federal government after serving 36 years with the U.S. Geological Survey.
Arturo has authored and coauthored over 20 USGS technical publications on the hydrology and groundwater resources in Puerto Rico and Florida. He has offered hundreds of technical presentations on karst and groundwater hydrology in Puerto Rico and Florida.
Arturo is one of the three co-founders of the Puerto Rico Speleological Society, incorporated under the laws of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico in 1976. In 1978, Arturo served as technical advisor to the National Speleological Society and to the government of Barbados in the development of Harrison Caves. In the early 80s, Arturo also served as technical advisor to the government of Puerto Rico during the development of the Rio Camuy Caves Park.