When water flows downhill inside an aquifer, from a higher elevation (h1) to a lower elevation (h2) along a distance (d), we know that the a larger difference in the elevations (h1 – h2) will results in a faster flow.
On the other hand, an increase in the horizontal distance between the (h1) elevation to the (h2) elevation
will interspace more aquifer material (sand, stone, clay or silt)
between the start and end points, thus more resistance, resulting in a
We represent the flow by a letter “Q” expressed, for example, in gallons per minute running through every square foot of cross section of the aquifer.
We say that the flow Q
is directly proportional to the difference in elevation, but is
inversely proportional to the distance and we express these
relationships in a mathematical formula:
Q = [ K• (h1 – h2) ] / d
dot (•) in the formula indicates multiplication, the slash (/)
indicates division and the “K” is a factor that determines the
proportionality. The K magnitude is determined by the materials
of which the interspacing material is made. We experiment with
different materials and find their K value.
We call K, “hydraulic conductivity.” Hydraulic means water and conductivity is the ability to transmit. Thus, K represents the ability of a material to transmit water
immediately see that the K will be large for a highly permeable
material like sand and gravel. It will be small for dense clay or silt.
1856, Henry Darcy, the Engineer of the town of Dijon, in Southern
France, investigated the flow of water in a sand filter in connection
with the city's fountains. From his experiments, he developed the above
formula which will forever now memorialize his investigative spirit.
groundwater moves down-hill through the pore space of the aquifer, we
name it “porous flow.” Darcy's law is operative in porous flow
need to know the K to enable us calculate groundwater flow. Estimates
can be made from knowledge of the geologic material, or from aquifer
Here are comparative values of K (expressed in units of foot per day)
K = 0.00005
Silty Sand K = 0.3
Well Sorted Sands K = 30
Well Sorted Gravels K = 3000