The Albuquerque, New Mexico, area has two principal sources of water: groundwater from the Santa Fe Group aquifer system and surface water from the San Juan-Chama Diversion Project. From 1960 to 2002, groundwater withdrawals from the Santa Fe Group aquifer system have caused water levels to decline more than 120 feet in some places within the Albuquerque area, resulting in a great deal of interest in quantifying the river-aquifer interaction associated with the Rio Grande.
In 2003, the U.S. Geological Survey in cooperation with the Bureau of Reclamation, the Middle Rio Grande Endangered Species Collaborative Program, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began a detailed characterization of the hydrogeology of the Rio Grande riparian corridor in the Albuquerque, New Mexico, area to provide hydrologic data and enhance the understanding of rates of water leakage from the Rio Grande to the alluvial aquifer, groundwater flow through the aquifer, and discharge of water from the aquifer to the riverside drains.
A simple conceptual model of flow indicates that the groundwater table gently slopes from the Rio Grande towards riverside drains and the outer boundaries of the inner valley. Water infiltrating from the Rio Grande initially moves vertically below the river, but, as flow spreads farther into the Rio Grande inner valley alluvial aquifer, flow becomes primarily horizontal. The slope of the water-table surface may be strongly controlled by the riverside drains and influenced by other more distal hydrologic boundary conditions, such as groundwater withdrawals by wells.
Results from 35 slug tests performed in the Rio Grande inner valley alluvial aquifer during January and February 2009 indicate that hydraulic-conductivity values ranged from 5 feet per day to 160 feet per day with a median hydraulic-conductivity for all transects of 40 feet per day. Median annual horizontal hydraulic gradients in the Rio Grande inner valley alluvial aquifer ranged from 0.011 to 0.002.
Groundwater fluxes through the alluvial aquifer calculated by using median slug-test results (qmslug) and Darcy's law ranged from about 0.1 feet per day to about 0.7 feet per day. Groundwater fluxes calculated by using the Suzuki-Stallman method (qmheat) ranged from 0.52 feet per day to 0.23 feet per day.
Results from the Darcy's law and Suzuki-Stallman flux calculations were compared to discharge measured in riverside drains on both sides of the river north of the Montaño Bridge on February 26, 2009. Flow in the Corrales Riverside Drain increased by 1.4 cubic feet per second from mile 2 to mile 4, about 12 cubic feet per day per linear foot of drain. Flow in the Albuquerque Riverside Drain increased by 15 cubic feet per second between drain miles 0 and 3, about 82 cubic feet per day per linear foot of drain.
The flux of water from the river to the aquifer was calculated to be 2.2 cubic feet per day per linear foot of river by using the median qmslug of 0.09 feet per day at Montaño transects west of the river. The total flux was calculated to be 6.0 cubic feet per day per linear foot of river by using the mean(qmheat of 0.24 feet per day for the Montaño transects west of the river. Assuming the Corrales Riverside Drain intercepted all of this flow, the qmslug or qmheat fluxes account for 18 to 50 percent, respectively, of the increase of flow in the drain. The flux of water from the river to the aquifer was calculated to be 15 cubic feet per day per linear foot of river by using the median qmslug of 0.30 feet per day at the Montaño transects east of the river. The flux of water from the river to the aquifer was calculated to be 17 cubic feet per day per linear foot of river by using the mean flux calculated from the Suzuki-Stallman method for the Montaño East transects of 0.34 feet per day. Assuming the Albuquerque Riverside Drain intercepted all this flow, the qmslug or (qmheat fluxes would only account for 18 to 21 percent, respectively, of the increase in flow in the drain.
The comparison of these results with those of previous investigations suggests that calculated flux through the Rio Grande inner valley alluvial aquifer is strongly scale dependent and that the thickness of aquifer through which river water flows may be greater than indicated by the vertical temperature profiles.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Groundwater hydrology and estimation of horizontal groundwater flux from the Rio Grande at selected locations in Albuquerque, New Mexico, 2003-9