For regional models, the shallow water table surface is often used as a source/sink boundary condition, as model grid scale precludes simulation of the water table aquifer. This approach is appropriate when the water table surface is relatively stationary. Since water table surface maps are not readily available, the elevation of the water table used in model cells is estimated via a two-step process. First, a regression equation is developed using existing land and water table elevations from wells in the area. This equation is then used to predict the water table surface for each model cell using land surface elevation available from digital elevation models (DEM). Two methods of processing DEM for estimating the land surface for each cell are commonly used (value nearest the cell centroid or mean value in the cell). This article demonstrates how these two methods of DEM processing can affect the simulated water budget. For the example presented, approximately 20% more total flow through the aquifer system is simulated if the centroid value rather than the mean value is used. This is due to the one-third greater average ground water gradients associated with the centroid value than the mean value. The results will vary depending on the particular model area topography and cell size. The use of the mean DEM value in each model cell will result in a more conservative water budget and is more appropriate because the model cell water table value should be representative of the entire cell area, not the centroid of the model cell.
Additional publication details
How processing digital elevation models can affect simulated water budgets