Obtaining values of net infiltration, groundwater travel time, and recharge is necessary at the Yucca Mountain site, Nevada, USA, in order to evaluate the expected performance of a potential repository as a containment system for high-level radioactive waste. However, the geologic complexities of this site, its low precipitation and net infiltration, with numerous mechanisms operating simultaneously to move water through the system, provide many challenges for the estimation of the spatial distribution of recharge. A variety of methods appropriate for arid environments has been applied, including water-balance techniques, calculations using Darcy's law in the unsaturated zone, a soil-physics method applied to neutron-hole water-content data, inverse modeling of thermal profiles in boreholes extending through the thick unsaturated zone, chloride mass balance, atmospheric radionuclides, and empirical approaches. These methods indicate that near-surface infiltration rates at Yucca Mountain are highly variable in time and space, with local (point) values ranging from zero to several hundred millimeters per year. Spatially distributed net-infiltration values average 5 mm/year, with the highest values approaching 20 mm/year near Yucca Crest. Site-scale recharge estimates range from less than 1 to about 12 mm/year. These results have been incorporated into a site-scale model that has been calibrated using these data sets that reflect infiltration processes acting on highly variable temporal and spatial scales. The modeling study predicts highly non-uniform recharge at the water table, distributed significantly differently from the non-uniform infiltration pattern at the surface.
Additional publication details
Estimating recharge at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, USA: Comparison of methods