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Scientific Investigations Report 2006-5135

Hydrogeologic Framework Refinement, Ground-Water Flow and Storage, Water-Chemistry Analyses, and Water-Budget Components of the Yuma Area, Southwestern Arizona and Southeastern California

Jesse E. Dickinson, Michael Land, Claudia C. Faunt, S.A. Leake, Eric G. Reichard, John B. Fleming, and D.R. Pool

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The ground-water and surface-water system in the Yuma area in southwestern Arizona and southeastern California is managed intensely to meet water-delivery requirements of customers in the United States, to manage high ground-water levels in the valleys, and to maintain treaty-mandated water-quality and quantity requirements of Mexico. The following components in this report, which were identified to be useful in the development of a ground-water management model, are: (1) refinement of the hydrogeologic framework; (2) updated water-level maps, general ground-water flow patterns, and an estimate of the amount of ground water stored in the mound under Yuma Mesa; (3) review and documentation of the ground-water budget calculated by the Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Department of the Interior (Reclamation); and (4) water-chemistry characterization to identify the spatial distribution of water quality, information on sources and ages of ground water, and information about the productive-interval depths of the aquifer.

A refined three-dimensional digital hydrogeologic framework model includes the following hydrogeologic units from bottom to top: (1) the effective hydrologic basement of the basin aquifer, which includes the Pliocene Bouse Formation, Tertiary volcanic and sedimentary rocks, and pre-Tertiary metamorphic and plutonic rocks; (2) undifferentiated lower units to represent the Pliocene transition zone and wedge zone; (3) coarse-gravel unit; (4) lower, middle, and upper basin fill to represent the upper, fine-grained zone between the top of the coarse-gravel unit and the land surface; and (5) clay A and clay B. Data for the refined model includes digital elevation models, borehole lithology data, geophysical data, and structural data to represent the geometry of the hydrogeologic units. The top surface of the coarse-gravel unit, defined by using borehole and geophysical data, varies similarly to terraces resulting from the down cutting of the Colorado River. Clay A is nearly the same as the previous conceptual hydrogeologic model definition (Olmsted and others, 1973), except for a minor westward extension from the city of Yuma. Clay B is extended to the southerly international boundary and increased in areal extent by about two-thirds of the original extent (Olmsted and others, 1973). The other hydrogeologic units generally are the same as in the previous conceptual hydrogeologic model.

Before development, the Colorado and Gila Rivers were the sources of nearly all the ground water in the Yuma area through direct infiltration of water from river channels and annual overbank flooding. After construction of upstream reservoirs and clearing and irrigation of the floodplains, the rivers now act as drains for the ground water. Ground-water levels in most of the Yuma area are higher now than they were in predevelopment time. A general gradient of ground-water flow toward the natural discharge area south of the Yuma area still exists, but many other changes in flow are evident. Ground water in Yuma Valley once flowed away from the Colorado River, but now has a component of flow towards the river and Mexicali Valley. A ground-water mound has formed under Yuma Mesa from long-term surface-water irrigation; about 600,000 to 800,000 acre-ft of water are stored in the mound. Ground-water withdrawals adjacent to the southerly international boundary have resulted in water-level declines in that area.

The reviewed and documented water budget includes the following components: (1) recharge in irrigated areas, (2) evapotranspiration by irrigated crops and phreatophytes, (3) ground-water return flow to the Colorado River, and (4) ground-water withdrawals (including those in Mexicali Valley). Recharge components were calculated by subtracting the amount of water used by crops from the amount of water delivered. Evapotranspiration rates were calculated on the basis of established methods, thus were appropriate for input to the ground-water flow model developed by the Bureau of Reclamation (William Greer, hydrologist, Bureau of Reclamation, written commun., 2005). Evapotranspiration by crops and phreatophytes were calculated by using crop coefficient methods and meteorological data. Other methods of calculating evapotranspiration rates by using combinations of satellite imagery and ground-based data could be used for higher spatial and temporal resolution. Ground-water return flow during years of low flow on the Colorado River (1972–82, 1987–92, and 1994–96) averaged 79,000 acre-ft per year. Ground-water withdrawal data for 1970–99 were similar to other estimates made by the U.S. Geological Survey for the Yuma area.

New water-chemistry data were collected in 12 wells and 8 canals/drains to characterize spatial patterns in chemical constituents, determine isotopic ages of water, infer possible sources of ground water, and locate the vertical intervals of the aquifer that contribute most water to wells. Depth-dependent samples were collected at one of the wells (YM-10). A large quantity of water-quality data were compiled from Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Geological Survey records and merged into the U.S. Geological Survey National Water Information System database. New samples were analyzed for major ions, nutrients, stable isotopes of oxygen and hydrogen, tritium (3H), and carbon-14 (14C) (along with C13/C12 ratios). Light values of oxygen-18 (18O) and deuterium (2H, D) in well 242-2 indicate recharge from the Colorado River. Heavy water samples from wells 242-22, CADC, and Mesa del Sol indicate local recharge sources. Tritium data indicate there is young water in wells in the valleys and near the edge of Yuma Mesa, while older water is found far from the Colorado River. 14C data indicate that water from wells near the southerly international boundary is at least several thousand years old.





Ground Water

Water Chemistry as Selected Sites in Yuma Valley, South Gila Valley, and Yuma Mesa

Review of Water Budget Components

Additional Data Needs

Summary of Phase 1 Analysis and Concepts for Water Management

References Cited

Appendices A-C

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For more information about USGS activities in Arizona, visit the USGS Arizona Water Science Center home page

Send questions or comments about this report to Jesse Dickinson, 670-6671.

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