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Image of the entire surface water flow of the Alapaha River near Jennings, Florida going into a sinkhole leading to the Floridan Aquifer groundwater.

Surface water is water collecting on the ground or in a stream, river, lake, wetland, or ocean; it is related to water collecting as groundwater or atmospheric water.

Surface water is naturally replenished by precipitation and naturally lost through discharge to evaporation and sub-surface seepage into the groundwater. Although there are other sources of groundwater, such as connate water and magmatic water, precipitation is the major one and groundwater originated in this way is called meteoric water.

Land surface water is the largest source of fresh water.


Classification of surface water quality

The field of hydrometry is used to characterize surface water quality:

  • Class 1 is extra clean fresh surface water resource used for conservation, not necessarily required to pass through water treatment process, and requiring only an ordinary process for pathogenic destruction and ecosystem conservation where basic organisms can breed naturally.
  • Class 2 is very clean fresh surface water resource used for consumption, which requires ordinary water treatment process before use, for aquatic organism of conservation, fisheries, and recreation.
  • Class 3 is medium clean fresh surface water resource used for consumption, but requires passing through an ordinary treatment process before use, for agriculture.
  • Class 4 is fairly clean fresh surface water resource used for consumption, but requires a special water treatment process before use, for industry.
  • Class 5 is the source which is not classified in class 1-4 and used only for navigation.

Definition: Surface water is taken from the lakes, rivers, waterfalls and sea.


Conjunctive use of ground and surface water

Surface and ground water are two separate entities, so they must be regarded as such. However, there is an ever-increasing need for management of the two as they are part of an interrelated system that is paramount when the demand for water exceeds the available supply (Fetter 464). Depletion of surface and ground water sources for public consumption (including industrial, commercial, and residential) is caused by overpumping. Aquifers near river systems that are overpumped have been known to deplete surface water sources as well. Research supporting this has been found in numerous water budgets for a multitude of cities.

Response times for an aquifer is long (Young & Bredehoeft 1972), however, a total ban on ground water usage during water recessions would allow surface water to better retain levels required for sustainable aquatic life. By reducing ground water pumping, the surface water supplies will be able to maintain their levels, as they recharge from direct precipitation, runoff, etc.

See also


  • Applied Hydrogeology, Fourth Edition by C.W. Fetter.
  • R.A. Young and J.D. Bredehoeft Digital simulation for solving management problems with conjunctive groundwater and surface water systems from Water Resources Research 8:533-56


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