Groundwater Recharge Estimates for Maine Using a Soil-Water-Balance Model—25-Year Average, Range, and Uncertainty, 1991 to 2015

Scientific Investigations Report 2019-5125
Prepared in cooperation with the Maine Geological Survey
By:  and 



To address the lack of information on the spatial and temporal variability of recharge to groundwater systems in Maine, a study was initiated in cooperation with the Maine Geological Survey to use the U.S. Geological Survey Soil-Water-Balance model to evaluate annual average potential recharge across the State over a 25-year period from 1991 to 2015. The Maine Soil-Water-Balance model was calibrated using annual observations of recharge, runoff, and evapotranspiration for 32 calibration watersheds in the State during 2001–12 (902 total observations). Observations of recharge, runoff, and evapotranspiration were developed for each watershed to reduce the possibility of nonunique combinations of model parameters during the calibration. The Maine Soil-Water-Balance model was run using an optional evapotranspiration calculation method that provides more control for calibration than the standard method. The model was calibrated using the Parameter ESTimation software suite.

The overall mean model error (average of all annual residuals for recharge, runoff, and precipitation) was 0.39 inch. The mean of the absolute value of the residuals, or the mean absolute error, was 2.32 inches. The root mean squared error for the calibrated model overall was 3.14 inches. Statistical tests indicated that the model residuals are normally distributed. To determine the potential uncertainty in the median annual potential recharge that results from uncertainty in the parameters as they relate to information contained in the observations, 300 alternate model realizations were run, and the standard deviation of the median potential recharge value at every pixel was calculated.

Simulated 25-year median potential recharge across the State is widely variable; this variability closely follows patterns of precipitation, with additional variability contributed by the patchwork nature of the combinations of land-use class and hydrologic soil group inputs, and distribution of available water capacity in the soil across the State. Overall, the 25-year median annual potential recharge across the State is 7.5 inches, ranging from a low of about 5 inches to over 30 inches. The statewide range in the 25-year minimum values is from just over 2 inches to just over 20 inches. The statewide range in the 25-year maximum potential recharge is between 15 and 48 inches per year.

The model areas with the highest simulated median potential recharge include areas underlain by type A soils (sandy and well drained), particularly those that also have land uses with low or little vegetation (blueberry barrens, developed, open space, scrub/shrub, and cropland, for example). The potential recharge values for these areas are similar to previously published values for comparable soil types.

The 25-year average potential recharge grids were compared to recharge evaluated through groundwater-flow models or other methods in four hydrogeologic settings at six study areas in the State. A key factor in the ability of the Soil-Water-Balance model to reproduce the earlier study results was whether the available water-capacity data were an appropriate match for the hydrologic soil groups. The Maine Soil-Water-Balance model does a good job in representing an accurate potential recharge under circumstances where the surficial mapped soils extend below the surface to the water-table aquifer and where the available water-capacity data are in an appropriate range for the hydrologic soil group. One hydrogeologic setting that was challenging for the model was where a silt and clay layer was below a shallow soil unit that did not have available water-capacity data that were appropriate for the hydrologic soil group. In these cases, typically the available water-capacity data were very low, not accounting for the impedance of water flow provided by the underlying soil. The model also does not simulate well areas where bedrock surfaces are above the water table but below the plant rooting zone.

The data products accompanying this report are intended to be used to provide first-cut estimates of recharge for geographic areas no smaller than the smallest watersheds used in the calibration of the model—or about 1.5 square miles. It is recommended that the grids are used to calculate an area-wide average potential recharge for any given area of study, and an uncertainty around the mean should be calculated from the standard deviation grid at the same time.

Suggested Citation

Nielsen, M.G., and Westenbroek, S.M., 2019, Groundwater recharge estimates for Maine using a Soil-Water-Balance model—25-year average, range, and uncertainty, 1991 to 2015: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2019–5125, 58 p.,

ISSN: 2328-0328 (online)

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Soil-Water-Balance Modeling Approach
  • Maine Soil-Water-Balance Model Description and Calibration
  • Groundwater Recharge Estimates for Maine, 1991–2015
  • Summary and Conclusions
  • Acknowledgments
  • References Cited
  • Appendix 1. Details of Soil-Water-Balance Model Input for Maine
  • Appendix 2. Details of Soil-Water-Balance Model Calibration Information
  • Appendix 3. Annual Values of Modeled Recharge, Runoff, Evapotranspiration, and Precipitation for Calibration Watersheds, 1991–2015
Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Groundwater recharge estimates for Maine using a Soil-Water-Balance model—25-year average, range, and uncertainty, 1991 to 2015
Series title Scientific Investigations Report
Series number 2019-5125
DOI 10.3133/sir20195125
Year Published 2019
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) New England Water Science Center
Description Report: vii, 56 p.; Tables; 2 Data Releases
Country United States
State Maine
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Additional Online Files (Y/N) Y
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