Transient recharge to the water table is often not well understood or quantified. Two approaches for simulating transient recharge in a ground water flow model were investigated using the Trout Lake watershed in north-central Wisconsin: (1) a traditional approach of adding recharge directly to the water table and (2) routing the same volume of water through an unsaturated zone column to the water table. Areas with thin (less than 1 m) unsaturated zones showed little difference in timing of recharge between the two approaches; when water was routed through the unsaturated zone, however, less recharge was delivered to the water table and more discharge occurred to the surface because recharge direction and magnitude changed when the water table rose to the land surface. Areas with a thick (15 to 26 m) unsaturated zone were characterized by multimonth lags between infiltration and recharge, and, in some cases, wetting fronts from precipitation events during the fall overtook and mixed with infiltration from the previous spring snowmelt. Thus, in thicker unsaturated zones, the volume of water infiltrated was properly simulated using the traditional approach, but the timing was different from simulations that included unsaturated zone flow. Routing of rejected recharge and ground water discharge at land surface to surface water features also provided a better simulation of the observed flow regime in a stream at the basin outlet. These results demonstrate that consideration of flow through the unsaturated zone may be important when simulating transient ground water flow in humid climates with shallow water tables.
Additional publication details
Importance of unsaturated zone flow for simulating recharge in a humid climate