Tritium records were used to study hydrologic processes associated with irrigation and drainage in the Imperial Valley, a 2000-km2 agricultural area in the southeastern California desert. Tritium was analyzed in surface water, ground water, soil-pore water and drain water, and the results were compared to the historical record of tritium in the Colorado River. The Colorado River record was reconstructed using a simple reservoir model and precipitation data in the Colorado River Basin for the period prior to 1965, and from continuous measurements in the river for 1965-1988. This historical record is especially useful in the arid Imperial Valley because recent agricultural development has been entirely dependent on irrigation water diverted from the Colorado River and local recharge is negligible. Results indicate that it takes about 5 a for irrigation drainage to move through the soil to a depth of 2-3 m. Drainwaters have a wide range in tritium concentrations because of varying degrees of influence from ground-water intrusion, and from rapid percolation of irrigation through preferred pathways. The net result is that drainwater from about 40 fields had a range in tritium concentration similar to that of the Colorado River over the last 9 a (1980-1988), a period during which tritium concentration was declining about 15% annually in the river. ?? 1994.
Additional publication details
Use of long-term tritium records from the Colorado River to determine timescales for hydrologic processes associated with irrigation in the Imperial Valley, California