Effect of Seasonal and Long-Term Changes in Stress on Sources of Water to Wells

U.S. Geological Survey, Water Supply Paper 2445

by Thomas E. Reilly and David W. Pollock

This report is available as a pdf below


The source of water to wells is ultimately the location where the water flowing to a well enters the boundary surface of the ground-water system . In ground-water systems that receive most of their water from areal recharge, the location of the water entering the system is at the water table . The area contributing recharge to a discharging well is the surface area that defines the location of the water entering the groundwater system. Water entering the system at the water table flows to the well and is eventually discharged from the well. Many State agencies are currently (1994) developing wellhead-protection programs. The thrust of some of these programs is to protect water supplies by determining the areas contributing recharge to water-supply wells and by specifying regulations to minimize the opportunity for contamination of the recharge water by activities at the land surface. In the analyses of ground-water flow systems, steady-state average conditions are frequently used to simplify the problem and make a solution tractable. Recharge is usually cyclic in nature, however, having seasonal cycles and longer term climatic cycles. A hypothetical system is quantitatively analyzed to show that, in many cases, these cyclic changes in the recharge rates apparently do not significantly affect the location and size of the areas contributing recharge to wells. The ratio of the mean travel time to the length of the cyclic stress period appears to indicate whether the transient effects of the cyclic stress must be explicitly represented in the analysis of contributing areas to wells. For the cases examined, if the ratio of the mean travel time to the period of the cyclic stress was much greater than one, then the transient area contributing recharge to wells was similar to the area calculated using an average steady-state condition. Noncyclic long-term transient changes in water use, however, and cyclic stresses on systems with ratios less than 1 can and do affect the location and size of the areas contributing recharge to wells.

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