Rio Grande transboundary integrated hydrologic model and water-availability analysis, New Mexico and Texas, United States, and Northern Chihuahua, Mexico

Open-File Report 2018-1091
Prepared in cooperation with the Bureau of Reclamation
By: , and 



**September 28, 2018: The purpose of a USGS Open-file report (OFR) is dissemination of information that must be released immediately to fill a public need or information that is not sufficiently refined to warrant publication in one of the other USGS series. As part of that refinement process, an error was discovered in one of the input data sets of the Rio Grande Transboundary Integrated Hydrologic Model (RGTIHM) that this OFR was based upon. The error involved the assignment of storage properties to “phantom cells.”

Phantom cells are required for most variants of MODFLOW that use a structured finite-difference grid when individual stratigraphic layers are represented as separate layers. Using phantom cells is a common practice that allows separate model layers to be maintained without having to combine stratigraphic layers into equivalent model layers or to use an unstructured grid. Typically, phantom cell horizontal hydraulic conductivities and storage properties are set to a small number and vertical hydraulic conductivities are set to a number large enough to allow vertical flow between the vertically adjacent layers.

In the RGTIHM, the specific storage properties of the phantom cells for the upper (RGTIHM layers 3 and 4), middle (RGTIHM layers 5 and 6), and lower (RGTIHM layers 7 and 8) members of the Santa Fe Group were inadvertently assigned a value of 1 feet-1. The revision of these specific storage values to a small number (1.0 x 10-09 feet-1) required additional trial-and-error model calibration and a new sensitivity analysis. After calibration, the overall model fit remained similar to the fit described in the OFR, but the fit for many individual features such as project water available for diversions at the American Canal and Acequia Madre improved due to the reduction in flow coming from lower layers. Overall, there is still an average net depletion of groundwater flow, and the conclusions of the report are not changed. The revised average annual groundwater flow depletion simulated for the period 1953-2014 is -1,480 acre-feet/year for the entire model region, and -3,660 acre-feet/year for the portion of the model in the United States. The final version of the model will be the basis of the USGS Scientific Investigations Report that will supersede this OFR. An updated Model Archive of RGTIHM is available upon request to the USGS California Water Science Center.

The corrected version of the model WAS the basis for the USGS Scientific Investigations Report that SUPERSEDED this Open-File Report.**


Changes in population, agricultural development and practices (including shifts to more water-intensive crops), and climate variability are increasing demands on available water resources, particularly groundwater, in one of the most productive agricultural regions in the Southwest—the Rincon and Mesilla Valley parts of Rio Grande Valley, Doña Ana and Sierra Counties, New Mexico, and El Paso County, Texas. The goal of this study was to produce an integrated hydrological simulation model to help evaluate water-management strategies, including conjunctive use of surface water and groundwater for historical conditions, and to support long-term planning for the Rio Grande Project. This report describes model construction and applications by the U.S. Geological Survey, working in cooperation and collaboration with the Bureau of Reclamation.

This model, the Rio Grande Transboundary Integrated Hydrologic Model, simulates the most important natural and human components of the hydrologic system, including selected components related to variations in climate, thereby providing a reliable assessment of surface-water and groundwater conditions and processes that can inform water users and help improve planning for future conditions and sustained operations of the Rio Grande Project (RGP) by the Bureau of Reclamation. Model development included a revision of the conceptual model of the flow system, construction of a Transboundary Rio Grande Watershed Model (TRGWM) water-balance model using the Basin Characterization Model (BCM), and construction of an integrated hydrologic flow model with MODFLOW-One-Water Hydrologic Flow Model (referred to as One Water). The hydrologic models were developed for and calibrated to historical conditions of water and land use, and parameters were adjusted so that simulated values closely matched available measurements (calibration). The calibrated model was then used to assess the use and movement of water in the Rincon Valley, Mesilla Basin, and northern part of the Conejos-Médanos Basin, with the entire region referred to as the “Transboundary Rio Grande” or TRG. These tools provide a means to understand hydrologic system response to the evolution of water use in the region, its availability, and potential operational constraints of the RGP.
The conceptual model identified surface-water and groundwater inflows and outflows that included the movement and use of water both in natural and in anthropogenic systems. The groundwater-flow system is characterized by a layered geologic sedimentary sequence combined with the effects of groundwater pumping, operation of the RGP, natural runoff and recharge, and the application of irrigation water at the land surface that is captured and reused in an extensive network of canals and drains as part of the conjunctive use of water in the region.

Historical groundwater-level fluctuations followed a cyclic pattern that were aligned with climate cycles, which collectively resulted in alternating periods of wet or dry years. Periods of drought that persisted for one or more years are associated with low surface-water availability that resulted in higher rates of groundwater-level decline. Rates of groundwater-level decline also increased during periods of agricultural intensification, which necessitated increasing use of groundwater as a source of irrigation water. Agriculture in the area was initially dominated by alfalfa and cotton, but since 1970 more water-intensive pecan orchards and vegetable production have become more common. Groundwater levels substantially declined in subregions where drier climate combined with increased demand, resulting in periods of reduced streamflows.

Most of the groundwater was recharged in the Rio Grande Valley floor, and most of the pumpage and aquifer storage depletion was in Mesilla Basin agricultural subregions. A cyclic imbalance between inflows and outflows resulted in the modeled cyclic depletion (groundwater withdrawals in excess of natural recharge) of the groundwater basin during the 75-year simulation period of 1940–2014. Changes in groundwater storage can vary considerably from year to year, depending on land use, pumpage, and climate conditions. Climatic drivers of wet and dry years can greatly affect all inflows, outflows, and water use. Although streamflow and, to a minor extent, precipitation during inter-decadal wet-year periods replenished the groundwater historically, contemporary water use and storage depletion could have reduced the effects of these major recharge events. The average net groundwater flow-rate deficit for 1953–2014 was estimated to be about 8,990 acre-feet per year.

Suggested Citation

Hanson, R.T., Ritchie, A.B., Boyce, S.E., Galanter, A.E., Ferguson, I.A., Flint, L.E., and Henson, W.R., 2018, Rio Grande transboundary integrated hydrologic model and water-availability analysis, New Mexico and Texas, United States, and Northern Chihuahua, Mexico: U.S Geological Survey Open-File Report 2018–1091, 185 p.,

ISSN: 2331-1258 (online)

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Rio Grande transboundary integrated hydrologic model and water-availability analysis, New Mexico and Texas, United States, and Northern Chihuahua, Mexico
Series title Open-File Report
Series number 2018-1091
DOI 10.3133/ofr20181091
Year Published 2018
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) California Water Science Center
Description Report: x, 185 p.; Dataset; Data release; Errata
Public Comments This Open-File report (OFR) will be superseded by a USGS Scientific Investigations report (SIR) once the USGS Techniques and Methods report (T&M) documenting the numerical code is published. Once the SIR is released, the final model archive will be available on the national USGS archive site. For the interim archive for this model, please contact CaWSC for directions on downloading 916-278-3026.
Country Mexico, United States
State New Mexico, Northern Chihuahua, Texas
Other Geospatial Rio Grande
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
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