Fundamental concepts of recharge in the Desert Southwest: A regional modeling perspective

Water Science and Application
By: , and 



Recharge in arid basins does not occur in all years or at all locations within a basin. In the desert Southwest potential evapotranspiration exceeds precipitation on an average annual basis and, in many basins, on an average monthly basis. Ground-water traveltime from the surface to the water table and recharge to the water table vary temporally and spatially owing to variations in precipitation, air temperature, root zone and soil properties and thickness, faults and fractures, and hydrologic properties of geologic strata in the unsaturated zone. To highlight the fundamental concepts controlling recharge in the Southwest, and address the temporal and spatial variability of recharge, a basin characterization model was developed using a straightforward water balance approach to estimate potential recharge and runoff and allow for determination of the location of recharge within a basin. It provides a means for interbasin comparison of the mechanisms and processes that result in recharge and calculates the potential for recharge under current, wetter, and drier climates. Model estimates of recharge compare favorably with other methods estimating recharge in the Great Basin. Results indicate that net infiltration occurs in less than 5 percent of the area of a typical southwestern basin. Decadal-scale climatic cycles have substantially different influences over the extent of the Great Basin, with the southern portion receiving 220 percent higher recharge than the mean recharge during El Niño years in a positive phase of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, whereas the northern portion receives only 48 percent higher recharge. In addition, climatic influences result in ground-water travel times that are expected to vary on time scales of days to centuries, making decadal-scale climate cycles significant for understanding recharge in arid lands.

Additional publication details

Publication type Book chapter
Publication Subtype Book Chapter
Title Fundamental concepts of recharge in the Desert Southwest: A regional modeling perspective
Series title Water Science and Application
DOI 10.1029/009WSA10
Volume 9
Year Published 2004
Language English
Publisher American Geophysical Union
Contributing office(s) California Water Science Center
Description 16 p.
Larger Work Type Book
Larger Work Title Groundwater recharge in a desert environment: The southwestern United States
First page 159
Last page 184
Country United States
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