Regional analysis of ground-water recharge

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Flint, Lorraine E. and Flint, Alan L.

A modeling analysis of runoff and ground-water recharge for the arid and semiarid southwestern United States was performed to investigate the interactions of climate and other controlling factors and to place the eight study-site investigations into a regional context. A distributed-parameter water-balance model (the Basin Characterization Model, or BCM) was used in the analysis. Data requirements of the BCM included digital representations of topography, soils, geology, and vegetation, together with monthly time-series of precipitation and air-temperature data. Time-series of potential evapotranspiration were generated by using a submodel for solar radiation, taking into account topographic shading, cloudiness, and vegetation density. Snowpack accumulation and melting were modeled using precipitation and air-temperature data. Amounts of water available for runoff and ground-water recharge were calculated on the basis of water-budget considerations by using measured- and generated-meteorologic time series together with estimates of soil-water storage and saturated hydraulic conductivity of subsoil geologic units. Calculations were made on a computational grid with a horizontal resolution of about 270 meters for the entire 1,033,840 square-kilometer study area. The modeling analysis was composed of 194 basins, including the eight basins containing ground-water recharge-site investigations. For each grid cell, the BCM computed monthly values of potential evapotranspiration, soil-water storage, in-place ground-water recharge, and runoff (potential stream flow). A fixed percentage of runoff was assumed to become recharge beneath channels operating at a finer resolution than the computational grid of the BCM. Monthly precipitation and temperature data from 1941 to 2004 were used to explore climatic variability in runoff and ground-water recharge.

The selected approach provided a framework for classifying study-site basins with respect to climate and dominant recharge processes. The average climate for all 194 basins ranged from hyperarid to humid, with arid and semiarid basins predominating (fig. 6, chapter A, this volume). Four of the 194 basins had an aridity index of dry subhumid; two of the basins were humid. Of the eight recharge-study sites, six were in semiarid basins, and two were in arid basins. Average-annual potential evapotranspiration showed a regional gradient from less than 1 m/yr in the northeastern part of the study area to more than 2 m/yr in the southwestern part of the study area. Average-annual precipitation was lowest in the two arid-site basins and highest in the two study-site basins in southern Arizona. The relative amount of runoff to in-place recharge varied throughout the study area, reflecting differences primarily in soil water-holding capacity, saturated hydraulic conductivity of subsoil materials, and snowpack dynamics. Climatic forcing expressed in El Niño and Pacific Decadal Oscillation indices strongly influenced the generation of precipitation throughout the study area. Positive values of both indices correlated with the highest amounts of runoff and ground-water recharge.


Flint, L. E., and A. L. Flint. 2007. Regional analysis of ground-water recharge. Pages 29-59 Ground-water recharge in the arid and semiarid southwestern United States. In Stonestrom, D.A.,
Constantz, J., Ferré, T.P.A., and Leake, S.A., eds., Ground‐water recharge in the arid and semiarid
southwestern United States: U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1703.