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Circular 1376

Groundwater Resources Program

Streamflow Depletion by Wells—Understanding and Managing the Effects of Groundwater Pumping on Streamflow

By Paul M. Barlow and Stanley A. Leake

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (14.9 MB)Introduction

Groundwater is an important source of water for many human needs, including public supply, agriculture, and industry. With the development of any natural resource, however, adverse consequences may be associated with its use. One of the primary concerns related to the development of groundwater resources is the effect of groundwater pumping on streamflow. Groundwater and surface-water systems are connected, and groundwater discharge is often a substantial component of the total flow of a stream. Groundwater pumping reduces the amount of groundwater that flows to streams and, in some cases, can draw streamflow into the underlying groundwater system. Streamflow reductions (or depletions) caused by pumping have become an important water-resource management issue because of the negative impacts that reduced flows can have on aquatic ecosystems, the availability of surface water, and the quality and aesthetic value of streams and rivers.

Scientific research over the past seven decades has made important contributions to the basic understanding of the processes and factors that affect streamflow depletion by wells. Moreover, advances in methods for simulating groundwater systems with computer models provide powerful tools for estimating the rates, locations, and timing of streamflow depletion in response to groundwater pumping and for evaluating alternative approaches for managing streamflow depletion. The primary objective of this report is to summarize these scientific insights and to describe the various field methods and modeling approaches that can be used to understand and manage streamflow depletion. A secondary objective is to highlight several misconceptions concerning streamflow depletion and to explain why these misconceptions are incorrect.

First posted November 1, 2012

For additional information contact:
Chief, Office of Groundwater
U.S. Geological Survey
Mail Stop 411
12201 Sunrise Valley Drive
Reston, VA 20192
Phone: (703) 648–5001

Part or all of this report is presented in Portable Document Format (PDF); the latest version of Adobe Reader or similar software is required to view it. Download the latest version of Adobe Reader, free of charge.

Suggested citation:

Barlow, P.M., and Leake, S.A., 2012, Streamflow depletion by wells—Understanding and managing the effects of groundwater pumping on streamflow: U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1376, 84 p. (Also available at )




Characteristics of Groundwater Systems and Groundwater Interactions with Streamflow

Streamflow Response to Groundwater Pumping

Time Response of Streamflow Depletion During Pumping

Distribution of Streamflow Depletion Along Stream Reaches

Variable and Cyclic Pumping Effects

Multiple Wells and Basinwide Analyses

Pumped Wells and Recharge Wells

Streamflow Depletion and Water Quality

Common Misconceptions about Streamflow Depletion

Aquifer Recharge and Development of Water Resources

Depletion and the Rates and Directions of Groundwater Flow

Depletion after Pumping Stops

Effects of Confining Layers on Depletion

Approaches for Monitoring, Understanding, and Managing Streamflow Depletion by Wells

Field Techniques

Analytical and Numerical Modeling

Analytical Models of Streamflow Depletion by Wells

Numerical Models of Streamflow Depletion by Wells

Response Functions and Capture Maps

Management of Streamflow Depletion



References Cited

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