Ground-Water Resources Program; National Research Program

U.S. Geological Survey
Professional Paper 1703-C

Overview of Ground-Water Recharge Study Sites

By Jim Constantz, Kelsey S. Adams, and David A. Stonestrom


General locations of the focused ground-water-recharge study sites (white squares) are indicated within the overall arid and semiarid southwestern United States study area (thick yellow outline). Squares, labeled by the study-site names, indicate locations of the satellite images shown on figure 2. The thin yellow outlines indicate locations of the corresponding hydrologic basins that were simulated by using the basin-scale recharge model (chapter B, this volume). Red diamonds indicate locations of the streamflow-gaging stations for which multidecadal data were used in analyzing regional trends (from figure 1).


Multiyear studies were done to examine meteorologic and hydrogeologic controls on ephemeral streamflow and focused ground-water recharge at eight sites across the arid and semiarid southwestern United States. Campaigns of intensive data collection were conducted in the Great Basin, Mojave Desert, Sonoran Desert, Rio Grande Rift, and Colorado Plateau physiographic areas. During the study period (1997 to 2002), the southwestern region went from wetter than normal conditions associated with a strong El Niño climatic pattern (1997–1998) to drier than normal conditions associated with a La Niña climatic pattern marked by unprecedented warmth in the western tropical Pacific and Indian Oceans (1998–2002). The strong El Niño conditions roughly doubled precipitation at the Great Basin, Mojave Desert, and Colorado Plateau study sites. Precipitation at all sites trended generally lower, producing moderate- to severe-drought conditions by the end of the study. Streamflow in regional rivers indicated diminishing ground-water recharge conditions, with annual-flow volumes declining to 10–46 percent of their respective long-term averages by 2002. Local streamflows showed higher variability, reflecting smaller scales of integration (in time and space) of the study-site watersheds. By the end of the study, extended periods (9–15 months) of zero or negligible flow were observed at half the sites. Summer monsoonal rains generated the majority of streamflow and associated recharge in the Sonoran Desert sites and the more southerly Rio Grande Rift site, whereas winter storms and spring snowmelt dominated the northern and westernmost sites. Proximity to moisture sources (primarily the Pacific Ocean and Gulf of California) and meteorologic fluctuations, in concert with orography, largely control the generation of focused ground-water recharge from ephemeral streamflow, although other factors (geology, soil, and vegetation) also are important. Watershed area correlated weakly with focused infiltration volumes, the latter providing an upper bound on associated ground-water recharge. Estimates of annual focused infiltration for the research sites ranged from about 105 to 107 cubic meters from contributing areas that ranged from 26 to 2,260 square kilometers.

download this report as a 22-page PDF file (pp1703c.pdf; 38.5 MB).

For questions about the content of this report, contact Jim Constantz

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