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The hot springs at Bath are the largest natural thermal source in Britain. Sustainable use of the waters for a spa requires maintenance of their temperature and flow rate. Together with smaller springs at Hotwells, Bristol, they form the outflow from a regional thermal aquifer that occurs where the Carboniferous Limestone is buried at depths >2.7 km in the Bristol-Bath structural basin. The aquifer is recharged via limestone outcrops forming the south and west portions of the basin rim. Current knowledge of the basin's structure is reviewed, and important uncertainties identified concerning the hydrogeological role of thrust faults which may cut the limestone at depth. A simple numerical model is used to determine the possible influence of thrusts upon groundwater flow within the thermal aquifer. Comparison of the modelled flow patterns with geochemical data and structure contours eliminates the hypothesis that thrusts completely disrupt the continuity of the aquifer. The most successful model is used to simulate the possible impact of dewatering by large quarries at the limestone outcrops north and south of Bath. Substantial reductions in modelled flow at Bath result from proposed dewatering in the eastern Mendips, although the steady-state approach adopted has severe limitations in that it does not take account of the incremental staging of actual dewatering, nor allow for partial restitution of groundwater levels. The geological uncertainties highlighted by the modelling could be addressed by future research into the effect of thrusts on the continuity of the Carboniferous Limestone. More refined modelling to predict the timing of possible impacts of quarry dewatering will require measurements of the storativity of the thermal aquifer.

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