Simulation of Ground-Water/Surface-Water Flow in the Santa Clara—Calleguas Ground-Water Basin, Ventura County, California

By R.T. Hanson, Peter Martin, and K.M. Koczot,



Water–Resources Investigations Report 02-4136

Sacramento, California 2003

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Ground water is the main source of water in the Santa Clara-Calleguas ground-water basin that covers about 310 square miles in Ventura County, California. A steady increase in the demand for surface- and ground-water resources since the late 1800s has resulted in streamflow depletion and ground-water overdraft. This steady increase in water use has resulted in seawater intrusion, inter-aquifer flow, land subsidence, and ground-water contamination.

The Santa Clara-Calleguas Basin consists of multiple aquifers that are grouped into upper- and lower-aquifer systems. The upper-aquifer system includes the Shallow, Oxnard, and Mugu aquifers. The lower-aquifer system includes the upper and lower Hueneme, Fox Canyon, and Grimes Canyon aquifers. The layered aquifer systems are each bounded below by regional unconformities that are overlain by extensive basal coarse-grained layers that are the major pathways for ground-water production from wells and related seawater intrusion. The aquifer systems are bounded below and along mountain fronts by consolidated bedrock that forms a relatively impermeable boundary to ground-water flow. Numerous faults act as additional exterior and interior boundaries to ground-water flow. The aquifer systems extend offshore where they crop out along the edge of the submarine shelf and within the coastal submarine canyons. Submarine canyons have dissected these regional aquifers, providing a hydraulic connection to the ocean through the submarine outcrops of the aquifer systems. Coastal landward flow (seawater intrusion) occurs within both the upper- and lower-aquifer systems.

A numerical ground-water flow model of the Santa Clara-Calleguas Basin was developed by the U.S. Geological Survey to better define the geohydrologic framework of the regional ground-water flow system and to help analyze the major problems affecting water-resources management of a typical coastal aquifer system. Construction of the Santa Clara-Calleguas Basin model required the compilation of geographic, geologic, and hydrologic data and estimation of hydraulic properties and flows. The model was calibrated to historical surface-water and ground-water flow for the period 1891-1993.

Sources of water to the regional ground-water flow system are natural and artificial recharge, coastal landward flow from the ocean (seawater intrusion), storage in the coarse-grained beds, and water from compaction of fine-grained beds (aquitards). Inflows used in the regional flow model simulation include streamflows routed through the major rivers and tributaries; infiltration of mountain-front runoff and infiltration of precipitation on bedrock outcrops and on valley floors; and artificial ground-water recharge of diverted streamflow, irrigation return flow, and treated sewage effluent.

Most natural recharge occurs through infiltration (losses) of streamflow within the major rivers and tributaries and the numerous arroyos that drain the mountain fronts of the basin. Total simulated natural recharge was about 114,100 acre-feet per year (acre-ft/yr) for 1984-93: 27,800 acre-ft/yr of mountain-front and bedrock recharge, 24,100 acre-ft/yr of valley-floor recharge, and 62,200 acre-ft/yr of net streamflow recharge.

Artificial recharge (spreading of diverted streamflow, irrigation return, and sewage effluent) is a major source of ground-water replenishment. During the 1984-93 simulation period, the average rate of artificial recharge at the spreading grounds was about 54,400 acre-ft/yr, 13 percent less than the simulated natural recharge rate for streamflow infiltration within the major rivers and tributaries. Estimated recharge from infiltration of irrigation return flow on the valley floors averaged about 51,000 acre-ft/yr, and treated sewage effluent averaged about 9,000 acre-ft/yr. Artificial recharge as streamflow diversion to the spreading grounds has occurred since 1929, and treated-sewage effluent has been discharged to stream channels since 1930.

Under predevelopment conditions, the largest discharge from the ground-water system was outflow as coastal seaward flow and evapotranspiration. Pumpage of ground water from thousands of water-supply wells has diminished these outflows and is now the largest outflow from the ground-water flow system. The distribution of pumpage for 1984-93 indicates that most of the pumpage occurs in the Oxnard Plain subareas (37 percent) and in the upper Santa Clara River Valley subareas (37 percent). The total average simulated pumpage was about 247,000 acre-ft/yr (59 percent); of which about 146,000 acre-ft/yr was from the Fox Canyon Groundwater Management Agency (FGMA) subareas and 101,000 acre-ft/yr (41 percent) from the non-FGMA subareas. Of the total 1984-93 pumpage, 46 percent was contributed by natural recharge, 22 percent was contributed by artificial recharge from diverted streamflow, 20 percent was contributed by irrigation return flow, 4 percent was contributed from sewage-effluent infiltration, 6 percent was contributed from storage depletion, and 2 percent was contributed from coastal landward flow (seawater intrusion).

Seawater intrusion was first suspected in 1931 when water levels were below sea level in a large part of the Oxnard Plain. The simulation of regional ground-water flow indicated that coastal landward flow (seawater intrusion) began in 1927 and continued to the end of the period of simulation (1993). During wet periods or periods of reduced demand for ground water, the direction of coastal flow in the upper-aquifer system reverses from landward to seaward. During the 1984-93 period, the simulated total net seaward flow was 9,500 acre-feet in the upper-aquifer system, which is considerably less than that simulated for predevelopment conditions. During the same period, total simulated landward flow in the lower-aquifer system was 64,200 acre-feet.

Water-level declines in the basin have induced land subsidence that was first measured in 1939 and have resulted in as much as 2.7 feet land subsidence in the southern part of the Oxnard Plain. The model simulated a total of 3 feet of land subsidence in the southern part of the Oxnard Plain and as much as 5 feet in the Las Posas Valley subbasins. Model simulations indicate that most of the land subsidence occurred after the drought of the late 1920s and during the agricultural expansion of the 1950s and 1960s. The results also indicate that subsidence occurred primarily in the upper-aquifer system prior to 1959, but in the lower-aquifer system between 1959-93 owing to an increase in pumpage from the lower-aquifer system.

The calibrated ground-water flow model was used to assess future ground-water conditions based on proposed water-supply projects in the existing management plan for the Santa Clara-Calleguas ground-water basin. All the projections of the proposed water-supply projects in the existing management plan have reduced pumpage in the FGMA areas which resulted in a reduction but not an elimination of storage depletion and related coastal landward flow (seawater intrusion) and subsidence, a reduction in streamflow recharge, and an increase in coastal seaward flow and underflow to adjacent subareas from the Oxnard Plain. A comparison of management simulations based on historical inflows and a spectral estimate of inflows shows increased coastal landward flow (seawater intrusion), storage depletion, and increased land subsidence due to a drought projected earlier in the spectral estimate of inflows than in the historical inflows. The spectral estimate probably provides a smoother and more realistic transition between historical and future climatic conditions.

The model also was used to simulate potential alternative water-supply projects in the Santa Clara-Calleguas ground-water basin. These seven alternative water-supply projects were proposed to help manage the effects of increasing demand and variable supply on seawater intrusion, subsidence, increased withdrawal from storage, and vertical and lateral flow between subareas and aquifers systems. Stopping pumpage primarily in the lower-aquifer system in the South Oxnard Plain subarea had the largest effect on reducing coastal landward flow (seawater intrusion) of all the potential cases evaluated. Shifting pumpage from the lower- to the upper-aquifer system in the South Oxnard Plain subarea yielded the largest combined effect on coastal flow with a reduction of coastal landward flow in the lower-aquifer system and coastal seaward flow from the upper-aquifer system. A seawater-barrier injection project stopped coastal landward flow (seawater intrusion) in the upper-aquifer system but also resulted in large quantities of coastal seaward flow. The recharge of water in Happy Camp Canyon resulted in water-level rises that were above land surface (not feasible) in the East Las Posas Valley subarea but in no significant changes in hydrologic conditions in other parts of the basin.




Purpose and Scope


Description of Study Area



Land and Water Use


Surface Water

Precipitation Estimates


Irrigation Diversions

Imported Water

Sewage Effluent

Ground Water

Geologic Framework

Consolidated Rocks

Unconsolidated Deposits

Aquifer Systems

Upper-Aquifer System

Lower-Aquifer System

Ground-Water Recharge

Streamflow Infiltration

Gaged Streamflow

Ungaged Streamflow

Direct Infiltration

Artificial Recharge

Irrigation Return Flow

Ground-Water Discharge



Coastal Flow along Submarine Outcrops

Ground-Water Levels, Movement, and Occurrence

Upper- and Lower-Aquifer-System Water Levels

Water-Level Differences Between Aquifers

Inter-Aquifer Flow

Source of Water to Wells

Source, Movement, and Age of Ground Water

Land-Subsidence Effects

Simulation of Ground-Water Flow

Model Framework

Previous Models

Model Grid

Temporal Discretization

Model Boundaries

Streamflow Routing and Ground-Water/Surface-Water Interactions

Mountain-Front Recharge

Valley-Floor Recharge

Artificial Recharge

Other Sources of Recharge

Natural Discharge


Hydraulic Properties


Storage Properties

Vertical Leakance

Model Calibration

Calibration Summary

Predevelopment Initial Conditions

Transient-State Calibration Parameters

Transient-State Model Comparisons

Model Uncertainty, Sensitivity, and Limitations

Analysis of Ground-Water Flow

Predevelopment Ground-Water Flow

Historical Ground-Water Flow, 1984-93

Summary of Ground-Water Conditions


Coastal Flow

Flow Between Subareas and Aquifer Systems

Land Subsidence

Projected Future Ground-Water Flow for Existing Management Plan

Summary of Projected Ground-Water Conditions


Coastal Flow

Flow Between Subareas and Aquifer Systems


Projected Future Ground-Water Flow for Alternative Water-Supply Projects

Potential Case 1--Seawater Barrier and Increased Pumpage in the Oxnard Plain Forebay 2/P>

Potential Case 2--Artificial Recharge in Happy Camp Canyon

Potential Case 3--Eliminate Agricultural Pumpage in the South Oxnard Plain Subarea

Potential Case 4--Shift Pumpage to Upper-Aquifer System in PTP Wells

Potential Case 5--Shift Pumpage to Upper-Aquifer System in the Northeast Oxnard Plain

Potential Case 6--Shift Pumpage to the Upper-Aquifer System in the South Oxnard Plain Subarea

Potential Case 7--Shift Pumpage to Upper-Aquifer System, Pleasant Valley

Summary and Conclusions

Selected References

Appendix 1

Appendix 2

Appendix 3

Appendix 4

Appendix 5

Appendix 6

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