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U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2011–5071

National Water Availability and Use Pilot Program

Water Availability and Use Pilot: Methods Development for a Regional Assessment of Groundwater Availability, Southwest Alluvial Basins, Arizona

By Fred D Tillman, Jeffrey T. Cordova, Stanley A. Leake, Blakemore E. Thomas, and James B. Callegary

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (30.1 MB )Executive Summary

Arizona is located in an arid to semiarid region in the southwestern United States and is one of the fastest growing States in the country. Population in Arizona surpassed 6.5 million people in 2008, an increase of 140 percent since 1980, when the last regional U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) groundwater study was done as part of the Regional Aquifer System Analysis (RASA) program. The alluvial basins of Arizona are part of the Basin and Range Physiographic Province and cover more than 73,000 mi², 65 percent of the State’s total land area. More than 85 percent of the State’s population resides within this area, accounting for more than 95 percent of the State’s groundwater use. Groundwater supplies in the area are expected to undergo further stress as an increasing population vies with the State’s important agricultural sector for access to these limited resources.

To provide updated information to stakeholders addressing issues surrounding limited groundwater supplies and projected increases in groundwater use, the USGS Groundwater Resources Program instituted the Southwest Alluvial Basins Groundwater Availability and Use Pilot Program to evaluate the availability of groundwater resources in the alluvial basins of Arizona. The principal products of this evaluation of groundwater resources are updated groundwater budget information for the study area and a proof-of-concept groundwater-flow model incorporating several interconnected groundwater basins. This effort builds on previous research on the assessment and mapping of groundwater conditions in the alluvial basins of Arizona, also supported by the USGS Groundwater Resources Program.

Regional Groundwater Budget

The Southwest Alluvial Basins-Regional Aquifer System Analysis (SWAB-RASA) study produced semiquantitative groundwater budgets for each of the alluvial basins in the SWAB-RASA study area. The pilot program documented in this report developed new quantitative estimates of groundwater budget components using recent (2000–2007) data and methods of data analysis. Estimates of inflow components, including mountain-front recharge, incidental recharge from irrigation of agriculture, managed recharge from recharge facilities, interbasin underflow from upgradient basins, and streamflow losses, are quantified for recent time periods. Mountain-front recharge is the greatest inflow component to the groundwater system and was estimated using two methods: a basin characteristic model and new precipitation information used in a previously developed regression equation. Annual mountain-front recharge for the study area for 1940–2007 estimated by the two methods is 730,000 acre-ft for the basin characteristic model and 643,000 acre-ft for the regression equation, representing 1.5 percent and 1.3 percent of precipitation, respectively. Outflow components, including groundwater withdrawals, evapotranspiration, and interbasin flow to downgradient basins, are also presented for recent time periods. Groundwater withdrawals accounted for the largest share of the water budget, with nearly 2.4 million acre-ft per year withdrawn from the study area in recent years. Evapotranspiration from groundwater was estimated at nearly 1.3 million acre-ft per year for the study area using a newly developed method incorporating vegetation indices from satellite images and land cover information. For water-budget components with temporal variation that could be assessed from available data, estimates for intervening time periods since before development were also developed. An estimate of aquifer storage change, representing both gains to and losses from the groundwater system since before development, was derived for the most developed basins in the study area using available estimates of groundwater-level changes and storage coefficients. An overall storage loss of 74.5 million acre-ft was estimated for these basins within the study area.

Demonstration of a Multibasin Groundwater-Flow Model

A proof-of-concept regional groundwater-flow model was developed to determine if large, multibasin models can be joined and solved, and to test groundwater budget components developed in the first part of this study. This model builds upon previous Federal and State agency groundwater investigations in the area completed at differing scales. Steady-state groundwater flow was modeled for an area that encompasses more than 2,900 mi², including the corridor of connected aquifers extending from the Santa Cruz Basin near the Tubac streamgage north of Nogales, Arizona, through the Tucson and Pinal Active Management Areas to the north. The connected aquifers of Avra and Altar Valleys, the Tucson metropolitan area, and the heavily agricultural area of the Pinal Active Management Area are all included in the modeled area. Steady-state groundwater flow was modeled using information on average in-place recharge and runoff produced during the development of the groundwater budgets. Planned future model refinements include transient simulations based on groundwater-budget components for time periods after widespread groundwater development.

Last modified August 22, 2011
First posted August 2, 2011

  • This report is available only on the Web at this time.

For additional information contact:
Office information, Arizona Water Science Center
U.S. Geological Survey
520 N. Park Avenue
Tucson, AZ 85719

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Suggested citation:

Tillman, F.D, Cordova, J.T., Leake, S.A., Thomas, B.E., and Callegary, J.B., 2011, Water availability and use pilot; methods development for a regional assessment of groundwater availability, southwest alluvial basins, Arizona: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2011-5071, 118 p. and online appendix.


Executive Summary


SWAB Groundwater Availability Issues

Analysis of Groundwater Conditions Using Groundwater-Level Databases

Regional Groundwater Budget

Demonstration of a Multibasin Groundwater-Flow Model for South-Central Arizona

Considerations for Assessment of Groundwater Availability

References Cited

one appendix (online only)

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