Simulated Ground-Water Flow in the Hueco Bolson, an Alluvial-Basin Aquifer System near El Paso, Texas

Water-Resources Investigations Report 2002-4108
Prepared in cooperation with El Paso Water Utilities and the U.S. Army–Fort Bliss
By:  and 



The neighboring cities of El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico, have historically relied on ground-water withdrawals from the Hueco Bolson, an alluvial-aquifer system, to supply water to their growing populations. By 1996, ground-water drawdown exceeded 60 meters in some areas under Ciudad Juarez and El Paso.

A simulation of steady-state and transient ground-water flow in the Hueco Bolson in westernmost Texas, south-central New Mexico, and northern Chihuahua, Mexico, was developed using MODFLOW-96. The model is needed by El Paso Water Utilities to evaluate strategies for obtaining the most beneficial use of the Hueco Bolson aquifer system. The transient simulation represents a period of 100 years beginning in 1903 and ending in 2002. The period 1903 through 1968 was represented with 66 annual stress periods, and the period 1969 through 2002 was represented with 408 monthly stress periods.

The ground-water flow model was calibrated using MODFLOWP and UCODE. Parameter values representing aquifer properties and boundary conditions were adjusted through nonlinear regression in a transient-state simulation with 96 annual time steps to produce a model that approximated (1) 4,352 water levels measured in 292 wells from 1912 to 1995, (2) three seepage-loss rates from a reach of the Rio Grande during periods from 1979 to 1981, (3) three seepage-loss rates from a reach of the Franklin Canal during periods from 1990 to 1992, and (4) 24 seepage rates into irrigation drains from 1961 to 1983. Once a calibrated model was obtained with MODFLOWP and UCODE, the optimal parameter set was used to create an equivalent MODFLOW-96 simulation with monthly temporal discretization to improve computations of seepage from the Rio Grande and to define the flow field for a chloride-transport simulation.

Model boundary conditions were modified at appropriate times during the simulation to represent changes in well pumpage, drainage of agricultural fields, and channel modifications of the Rio Grande. The model input was generated from geographic information system databases, which facilitated rapid model construction and enabled testing of several conceptualizations of hydrogeologic facies boundaries. Specific yield of unconfined layers and hydraulic conductance of Quaternary faults in the fluvial facies were the most sensitive model parameters, suggesting that ground-water flow is impeded across the fault planes.

Suggested Citation

Heywood, C.E., and Yager, R.M., 2003, Simulated ground-water flow in the Hueco Bolson, an alluvial-basin aquifer system near El Paso, Texas: U.S. Geological Survey Water-Resources Investigations Report 02–4108, 73 p.,

Table of Contents

  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Hydrogeology of the Hueco Bolson
  • Steady-State and Transient Ground-Water Flow Model
  • Model Calibration
  • Model Evaluation and Simulation Results
  • Summary and Conclusions
  • Selected References
  • Appendix 1: Modifications to MODFLOWP
  • Appendix 2: Modifications to MODFLOW
  • Appendix 3: Multi-Aquifer Well Package
Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Simulated ground-water flow in the Hueco Bolson, an alluvial-basin aquifer system near El Paso, Texas
Series title Water-Resources Investigations Report
Series number 2002-4108
DOI 10.3133/wri024108
Year Published 2003
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) New Mexico Water Science Center
Description v, 73 p.
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