Managed aquifer recharge as a drought mitigation strategy in heavily-stressed aquifers

D. E. Wendt, A. F. van Loon, B. R. Scanlon, D. M. Hannah

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Increasing meteorological drought frequency and rising water demand drive groundwater exploitation beyond sustainable limits. In heavily-stressed aquifers mitigation strategies, such as Managed Aquifer Recharge (MAR), are needed to restore depleted groundwater storage. MAR is also designed to overcome short dry periods. However, wider impacts of MAR as a drought mitigation strategy remain to be quantified. The objective of this study is to assess impacts of MAR in heavily-stressed aquifers using a case study of the Central Valley in California (USA). The novelty of this study lies in its analytical approach based on long-term observational data of precipitation, groundwater levels, and MAR operations. The impact of MAR operations is assessed regionally and for different temporal scales. Results show spatially-coherent clusters of groundwater level time series in the Central Valley representing three main patterns that manifest themselves in different groundwater drought characteristics and long-term trends. The first regional pattern shows lengthened groundwater droughts and declining groundwater levels over time, indicating effects of over abstraction in aquifer sections without MAR. The second regional pattern shows reduced groundwater drought duration and magnitude related to periodically rising groundwater levels, showing short-term MAR impacts. The third regional pattern shows alleviated groundwater droughts and groundwater levels show a long-term rise, representing long-term MAR impacts. Mitigated groundwater droughts and long-term rise in groundwater levels reveal the value of long-term MAR operations and their contribution toward sustainable groundwater management. Increased institutional support is recommended to ensure longevity of MAR and thereby amplify its success as regional drought mitigation strategy in heavily-stressed aquifers.

Original languageEnglish
Article number014046
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 12 Jan 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
In the process of developing this research, we would like to thank a number of colleagues and collaborators for their support. DW would like to thank the Bureau of Economic Geology at University of Texas and Amir Aghagouchak and his research group for hosting a research visit to CA organised within the IAHS Panta Rhei network, working group ‘Drought in the Anthropocene’. DW also thanks Mike Jones (Thames Water) for his support and thoughts on the potential of MAR, Claudia Faunt (US Geological Survey) for her thoughts on initial findings and sharing useful resources and model outputs, and lastly, the Female Geography writing group for supporting the writing process. In addition, DW would like to acknowledge her funding by CENTA NERC (NE/lL002493/1) and CASE studentship of British Geological Survey (GA/16S/023). AVL would like to acknowledge funding from the NWO Rubicon project ‘Adding the Human Dimension to Drought’ (2004/08338/ALW). This work also contributes to the objectives of the NERC-funded ‘Groundwater Drought Initiative’ (NE/R004994/1).


  • California
  • Central Valley
  • Groundwater
  • Hydrological droughts
  • Managed Aquifer Recharge (MAR)
  • Sustainable groundwater management

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • General Environmental Science
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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