Previous watershed assessments have relied on annual baseflow to evaluate the groundwater contribution to streams. To quantify the volume of groundwater in storage, additional information such as groundwater mean transit time (MTT) is needed. This study determined the groundwater MTT in the West Fork Duchesne watershed in Utah (USA) with lumped-parameter modeling of environmental tracers (SF6, CFCs, and 3H/3He) from 21 springs. Approximately 30% of the springs exhibited an exponential transit time distribution (TTD); the remaining ~70% were best characterized by a piston-flow TTD. The flow-weighted groundwater MTT for the West Fork watershed is about 40 years with approximately 20 years in the unsaturated zone. A cumulative distribution of these ages revealed that most of the groundwater is between 30 and 50 years old, suggesting that declining recharge associated with 5–10-year droughts is less likely to have a profound effect on this watershed compared with systems with shorter MTTs. The estimated annual baseflow of West Fork stream flow based on chemical hydrograph separation is ~1.7 × 107 m3/year, a proxy for groundwater discharge. Using both MTT and groundwater discharge, the volume of mobile groundwater stored in the watershed was calculated to be ~6.5 × 108 m3, or ~20 m thickness of active groundwater storage and recharge of ~0.09 m/year (assuming porosity = 15%). Future watershed-scale assessments should evaluate groundwater MTT, in addition to annual baseflow, to quantify groundwater storage and more accurately assess watershed susceptibility to drought, groundwater extraction, and land-use change.
Hydrogeology Journal – Springer Journals
Published: Aug 23, 2017
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