Thick, heterogeneous unsaturated zones away from large streams in desert areas have not previously been considered suitable for artificial recharge from ponds. To test the potential for recharge in these settings, 1.3 ?? 10 6 m3 of water was infiltrated through a 0.36-ha pond along Oro Grande Wash near Victorville, California, between October 2002 and January 2006. The pond overlies a regional pumping depression 117 m below land surface and is located where thickness and permeability of unsaturated deposits allowed infiltration and saturated alluvial deposits were sufficiently permeable to allow recovery of water. Because large changes in water levels caused by nearby pumping would obscure arrival of water at the water table, downward movement of water was measured using sensors in the unsaturated zone. The downward rate of water movement was initially as high as 6 m/d and decreased with depth to 0.07 m/d; the initial time to reach the water table was 3 years. After the unsaturated zone was wetted, water reached the water table in 1 year. Soluble salts and nitrate moved readily with the infiltrated water, whereas arsenic and chromium were less mobile. Numerical simulations done using the computer program TOUGH2 duplicated the downward rate of water movement, accumulation of water on perched zones, and its arrival at the water table. Assuming 10 ?? 10 6 m3 of recharge annually for 20 years, a regional ground water flow model predicted water level rises of 30 m beneath the ponds, and rises exceeding 3 m in most wells serving the nearby urban area.
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Artificial recharge through a thick, heterogeneous unsaturated zone