Ground water historically has been the sole source of water supply for the community of Joshua Tree in the Joshua Tree ground-water subbasin of the Morongo ground-water basin in the southern Mojave Desert. The Joshua Basin Water District (JBWD) supplies water to the community from the underlying Joshua Tree ground-water subbasin. The JBWD is concerned with the long-term sustainability of the underlying aquifer. To help meet future demands, the JBWD plans to construct production wells in the adjacent Copper Mountain ground-water subbasin. As growth continues in the desert, there may be a need to import water to supplement the available ground-water resources. In order to manage the ground-water resources and to identify future mitigating measures, a thorough understanding of the ground-water system is needed.
The purpose of this study was threefold: (1) improve the understanding of the geohydrologic framework of the Joshua Tree and Copper Mountain ground-water subbasins, (2) determine the distribution and quantity of recharge using field and numerical techniques, and (3) develop a ground-water flow model that can be used to help manage the water resources of the region.
The geohydrologic framework was refined by collecting and interpreting water-level and water-quality data, geologic and electric logs, and gravity data. The water-bearing deposits in the Joshua Tree and Copper Mountain ground-water subbasins are Quarternary alluvial deposits and Tertiary sedimentary and volcanic deposits. The Quarternary alluvial deposits were divided into two aquifers (referred to as the 'upper' and the 'middle' alluvial aquifers), which are about 600 feet (ft) thick, and the Tertiary sedimentary and volcanic deposits were assigned to a single aquifer (referred to as the 'lower' aquifer), which is as thick as 1,500 ft.
The ground-water quality of the Joshua Tree and Copper Mountain ground-water subbasins was defined by collecting 53 ground-water samples from 15 wells (10 in the Joshua Tree ground-water subbasin and 5 in the Copper Mountain ground-water subbasin) between 1980 and 2002 and analyzing the samples for major ions, nutrients, and selected trace elements. Selected samples also were analyzed for oxygen-18, deuterium, tritium, and carbon-14. The water-quality data indicated that dissolved solids and nitrate concentrations were below regulatory limits for potable water; however, fluoride concentrations in the lower aquifer exceeded regulatory limits. Arsenic concentrations and chromium concentrations were generally below regulatory limits; however, arsenic concentrations measured in water from wells perforated in the lower aquifer exceeded regulatory limits. The carbon-14 activities ranged from 2 to 72 percent modern carbon and are consistent with uncorrected ground-water ages (time since recharge) of about 32,300 to 2,700 years before present. The oxygen-18 and deuterium composition of water sampled from the upper aquifer is similar to the volume-weighted composition of present-day winter precipitation indicating that winter precipitation was the predominant source of ground-water recharge.
Field studies, conducted during water years 2001 through 2003 to determine the distribution and quantity of recharge, included installation of instrumented boreholes in selected washes and at a nearby control site. Core material and cuttings from the boreholes were analyzed for physical, chemical, and hydraulic properties. Instruments installed in the boreholes were monitored to measure changes in matric potential and temperature. Borehole data were supplemented with temperature data collected from access tubes installed at additional sites along study washes. Streambed hydraulic properties and the response of instruments to infiltration were measured using infiltrometers. Physical and geochemical data collected away from the stream channels show that direct infiltration of precipitation to depths below the root zone and subsequent gro