Ground-Water Resources Program; National Research Program
Abo Arroyo in the southeastern Middle Rio Grande Basin (MRGB) with its contributing watershed (upland catchment). False-color satellite image shows active vegetation as bright green, basin-fill and ancestral Rio Grande floodplain deposits as shades of pink, Paleozoic sedimentary rocks of Abo Canyon (east of the mountain front) as brown to purplish gray, basalt flows (most prominently at the south end of the Los Piños Mountains) as dark gray with red, and urban areas as speckled gray (from figure 1).
Abo Arroyo, an ephemeral tributary to the Rio Grande, rises in the largest upland catchment on the eastern side of the Middle Rio Grande Basin (MRGB). The 30-kilometer reach of channel between the mountain front and its confluence with the Rio Grande is incised into basin-fill sediments and separated from the regional water table by an unsaturated zone that reaches 120 meters thick. The MRGB portion of the arroyo is dry except for brief flows generated by runoff from the upland catchment. Though brief, ephemeral flows provide a substantial fraction of ground-water recharge in the southeastern portion of the MRGB. Previous estimates of average annual recharge from Abo Arroyo range from 1.3 to 21 million cubic meters. The current study examined the timing, location, and amount of channel infiltration using streamflow data and environmental tracers during a four-year period (water years 1997–2000). A streamflow-gaging station (“gage”) was installed in a bedrock-controlled reach near the catchment outlet to provide high-frequency data on runoff entering the basin. Streamflow at the gage, an approximate bound on potential tributary recharge to the basin, ranged from 0.8 to 15 million cubic meters per year. Storm-generated runoff produced about 98 percent of the flow in the wettest year and 80 percent of the flow in the driest year. Nearly all flows that enter the MRGB arise from monsoonal storms in July through October. A newly developed streambed temperature method indicated the presence and duration of ephemeral flows downstream of the gage. During the monsoon season, abrupt downward shifts in streambed temperatures and suppressed diurnal ranges provided generally clear indications of flow. Streambed temperatures during winter showed that snowmelt is also effective in generating channel infiltration. Controlled infiltration experiments in dry arroyo sediments indicated that most ephemeral flow is lost to seepage before reaching the Rio Grande. Streambed temperature records confirmed this, providing evidence of only two flows reaching the Rio Grande during a three-year period (water years 1998–2000). Sub-channel chloride concentrations indicate that approximately half of the seepage loss eventually becomes ground-water recharge. Vertical profiles of pore-water chloride in transects adjacent to the channel indicate that basin-floor recharge outside the arroyo is negligible under current climatic conditions.
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