The flow of water between rivers and contiguous aquifers influences the quantity and quality of water resources, particularly in regions where precipitation and runoff are unevenly distributed through the year, such as the Columbia Basin (CB) in northwestern United States. Investigations of basin hydrogeology and gains and losses of streamflow for six rivers in the CB were reviewed to characterize general patterns in the timing and location of river-aquifer exchanges at a reach-scale (0.5-150 km) and to identify geologic and geomorphic features associated with the largest exchanges. Ground-water discharge to each river, or the gain in streamflow, was concentrated spatially: more than one-half of the total gains along each river segment were contributed from reaches that represented no more than 30% of the total segment length with the largest and most concentrated gains in rivers in volcanic terrains. Fluvial recharge of aquifers, or losses of streamflow, was largest in rivers in sedimentary basins where unconsolidated sediments form shallow aquifers. Three types of geologic or geomorphic features were associated with the largest exchanges: (1) changes in the thickness of unconsolidated aquifers; (2) contacts between lithologic units that represent contrasts in permeability; and (3) channel forms that increase the hydraulic gradient or cross-sectional area of flow paths between a river and shallow ground-water. The down-valley component of ground-water flow and its vertical convergence on or divergence from a riverbed account for large streamflow gains in some reaches and contrast with the common assumption of lateral ground-water discharge to a river that penetrates completely through the aquifer. Increased ground-water discharge was observed during high-flow periods in reaches of four rivers indicating that changes in ground-water levels can be more important than stage fluctuations in regulating the direction and magnitude of river-aquifer exchanges and that assumptions about ground-water discharge during high flow periods used for base-flow separation must be verified. Given the variety of geologic terrains in the CB, the spatial and temporal patterns of river-aquifer exchanges provide a framework for investigations in other regions that includes a focus on reaches where the largest exchanges are likely to occur, integration of ground-water and surface-water data, and verification of assumptions regarding ground-water flow direction and temporal variation of exchanges. ?? 2006 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Additional publication details
Location and timing of river-aquifer exchanges in six tributaries to the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest of the United States