Many state agencies are currently (1995) developing wellhead protection programs. The thrust of some of these programs is to protect water supplies by determining the areas contributing recharge to water-supply wells and by specifying regulations to minimize the opportunity for contamination of the recharge water by activities at the land surface. The area contributing recharge to a discharging well is the surface area at the water table through which the water flowing to the well entered the ground-water system. In the analyses of ground-water flow systems, steady-state average conditions are commonly used to simplify the problem and make a solution tractable. However, recharge is usually cyclic in nature, with seasonal cycles and longer term climatic cycles. The effect of these cyclic stresses on the area contributing recharge to wells is quantitatively analyzed for a hypothetical alluvial valley aquifer system that is representative of a large class of ground-water systems that are extensively developed for water supply. The analysis shows that, in many cases, these cyclic changes in the recharge rates do not significantly affect the location and size of the areas contributing recharge to wells. The ratio of the mean travel time to the length of the cyclic stress period appears to be an indicator of whether the transient effects of the cyclic stress must be explicitly represented in the analysis of contributing areas to wells. For the cases examined, if the ratio of the mean travel time to the period of the cyclic stress was much greater than one, then the transient area contributing recharge to wells was similar to the area calculated using an average steady-state condition. However, cyclic stresses on systems with ratios less than one do have an effect on the location and size of the areas contributing recharge to wells.
Additional publication details
Sources of Water to Wells for Transient Cyclic Systems