Understanding and quantifying focused, indirect groundwater recharge from ephemeral streams using water table fluctuations

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Authors

Colleges, School and Institutes

Abstract

Understanding and managing groundwater resources in drylands is a challenging task, but one that is globally important. The dominant process for dryland groundwater recharge is thought to be as focused, indirect recharge from ephemeral stream losses. However, there is a global paucity of data
for understanding and quantifying this process and transferable techniques for quantifying groundwater recharge in such contexts are lacking. Here we develop a generalized conceptual model for understanding water table and groundwater head fluctuations due to recharge from episodic events within ephemeral streams. By accounting for the recession characteristics of a groundwater hydrograph, we present a simple but powerful new water table fluctuation approach to quantify focused, indirect recharge over both long term and event time scales. The technique is demonstrated using a new, and globally unparalleled, set of groundwater observations from an ephemeral stream catchment located in NSW, Australia. We find that, following episodic streamflow events down a predominantly dry channel system, groundwater
head fluctuations are controlled by pressure redistribution operating at three time scales from vertical flow (days to weeks), transverse flow perpendicular to the stream (weeks to months), and longitudinal flow parallel to the stream (years to decades). In relative terms, indirect recharge decreases almost linearly away from the mountain front, both in discrete monitored events as well as in the longterm average. In absolute terms, the estimated indirect recharge varies from 80 to 30 mm/a with the main uncertainty in these values stemming from uncertainty in the catchment-scale hydraulic properties.

Details

Original languageEnglish
Article number10.1002/2015WR017503
JournalWater Resources Research
Early online date11 Feb 2016
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 11 Feb 2016

Keywords

  • Groundwater recharge, ephemeral stream, water table fluctuation, semi-arid hydrology, indirect recharge, focused recharge, dryland hydrology, mountain front