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Scientific Investigations Report 2009–5262

Prepared in cooperation with the Afghanistan Geological Survey
under the auspices of the U.S. Agency for International Development

Conceptual Model of Water Resources in the Kabul Basin, Afghanistan

By Thomas J. Mack, M. Amin Akbari,1 M. Hanif Ashoor, Michael P. Chornack, Tyler B. Coplen, Douglas G. Emerson, Bernard E. Hubbard, David W. Litke, Robert L. Michel, L. Niel Plummer, M. Taher Rezai,1 Gabriel B. Senay, James P. Verdin, and Ingrid M. Verstraeten

1 Afghanistan Geological Survey


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The United States (U.S.) Geological Survey has been working with the Afghanistan Geological Survey and the Afghanistan Ministry of Energy and Water on water-resources investigations in the Kabul Basin under an agreement supported by the United States Agency for International Development. This collaborative investigation compiled, to the extent possible in a war-stricken country, a varied hydrogeologic data set and developed limited data-collection networks to assist with the management of water resources in the Kabul Basin. This report presents the results of a multidisciplinary water-resources assessment conducted between 2005 and 2007 to address questions of future water availability for a growing population and of the potential effects of climate change.

Most hydrologic and climatic data-collection activities in Afghanistan were interrupted in the early 1980s as a consequence of war and civil strife and did not resume until 2003 or later. Because of the gap of more than 20 years in the record of hydrologic and climatic observations, this investigation has made considerable use of remotely sensed data and, where available, historical records to investigate the water resources of the Kabul Basin. Specifically, this investigation integrated recently acquired remotely sensed data and satellite imagery, including glacier and climatic data; recent climate-change analyses; recent geologic investigations; analysis of streamflow data; groundwater-level analysis; surface-water- and groundwater-quality data, including data on chemical and isotopic environmental tracers; and estimates of public-supply and agricultural water uses. The data and analyses were integrated by using a simplified groundwater-flow model to test the conceptual model of the hydrologic system and to assess current (2007) and future (2057) water availability.

Recharge in the basin is spatially and temporally variable and generally occurs near streams and irrigated areas in the late winter and early spring. In irrigated areas near uplands or major rivers, the annual recharge rate may be about 1.2 × 10-3 meters per day; however, in areas at lower altitude with little irrigation, the recharge rate may average about 0.7 × 10-3 meters per day. With increasing population, the water needs of the Kabul Basin are estimated to increase from 112,000 cubic meters per day to about 725,000 cubic meters per day by the year 2057. In some areas of the basin, particularly in the north along the western mountain front and near major rivers, water resources are generally adequate for current needs. In other areas of the basin, such as in the east and away from major rivers, the available water resources may not meet future needs. On the basis of the model simulations, increasing withdrawals are likely to result in declining water levels that may cause more than 50 percent of shallow (typically less than 50 meters deep) supply wells to become dry or inoperative. The water quality in the shallow (less than 100 meters thick), unconsolidated primary aquifer has deteriorated in urban areas because of poor sanitation. Concerns about water availability may be compounded by poor well-construction practices and lack of planning.

Future water resources of the Kabul Basin will likely be reduced as a result of increasing air temperatures associated with global climate change. It is estimated that at least 60 percent of shallow groundwater-supply wells would be affected and may become dry or inoperative as a result of climate change. These effects of climate change would likely be greatest in the agricultural areas adjacent to the Paghman Mountains where a majority of springs, karezes, and wells would be affected. The water available in the shallow primary aquifer of the basin may meet future water needs in the northern areas of the Kabul Basin near the Panjsher River. Conceptual groundwater-flow simulations indicate that the basin likely has groundwater reserves in unused unconsolidated to semiconsolidated aquifers that are as thick as 1,000 meters. On the basis of mass-fraction measurements of chlorofluorocarbon in few samples, the age of groundwater in deep aquifers is likely on the order of thousands of years and may differ among the subbasins of the Kabul Basin. Deep groundwater in subbasin areas that are bounded by interbasin ridges may be considerably older than deep groundwater in other areas of the Kabul Basin. The deep aquifer may sustain increased municipal use but may not support increased agricultural use, which is presently an order of magnitude greater than municipal water use. The hydraulic feasibility of deep groundwater extractions and the quality of groundwater in the deep aquifer, however, are not well known and are currently (2007) under investigation.

First posted June 2010

For additional information contact:
International Water Resources Branch
U.S. Geological Survey
420 National Center
Reston, VA 20192

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Suggested citation:

Mack, T.J., Akbari, M.A., Ashoor, M.H., Chornack, M.P., Coplen, T.B., Emerson, D.G., Hubbard, B.E., Litke, D.W., Michel, R.L., Plummer, L.N., Rezai, M.T., Senay, G.B., Verdin, J.P., and Verstraeten, I.M., 2010, Conceptual model of water resources in the Kabul Basin, Afghanistan: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2009–5262, 240 p. (Also available at




Purpose and Scope

Description of Study Area


Geomorphology, Topography, and Geology





Hydrologic Methods

Climate Analysis

Surface Water

Groundwater Levels

Water-Quality Sampling

Chemical and Isotopic Sampling

Water Use

Municipal and Domestic


Groundwater-Flow Simulation and Conceptual Model

Hydroclimatologic, Geologic, and Geochemical Characteristics of the Kabul Basin

Climate Trends

Geomorphology and Composition of Basin-Fill Sediments

Surface Water

Streamflow Statistics

Comparison of 2006 Water-Year Streamflow to Historical Streamflows


Groundwater Levels

Surficial and Neogene Aquifers

Water Quality

Surface Water


Chemical and Isotopic Analysis

Stable Hydrogen and Oxygen Isotopes in Groundwater and Surface Water

Mass Concentration Ratios, Geochemical Reactions, and Solute Origins

Chlorofluorocarbons and Tritium in Groundwater and Surface Water

Water Use

Municipal and Domestic


Conceptual Groundwater-Flow Simulation and Water Availability

Conceptual Model

Estimated Water Availability

Simulated Effects of Population Growth on Water Resources

Simulated Effects of Withdrawals from the Upper Neogene Aquifer

Simulated Effects of Climate Change

Summary and Conclusions

Geomorphology and Geology

Trends in Temperature and Climate


Groundwater Levels

Water Quality

Chemical and Isotopic Analysis

Water Use

Conceptual Groundwater-Flow Simulation

Water Availability


References Cited

Appendix 1. Climate

Appendix 2. Geomorphology Methods

Appendix 3. Surface Water

Appendix 4. Chemical and Isotopic Analysis of Air and Water Samples

Appendix 5. Agricultural Water Use

Appendix 6. Conceptual Model Development

Appendix 7. Geomorphology and Composition of Basin-Fill Sediments

Appendix 8. Surface-Water Analysis

Appendix 9. Groundwater Levels

Appendix 10. Water-Quality Data

Appendix 11. Isotopic Data Results

Appendix 12. Water Chemistry, Geochemical Reactions, and Solute Origins

Appendix 13. Interpretations of Water Age Based on CFCs and Tritium Data

Appendix 14. Simulation of the Groundwater-Flow System

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