Simulation of net infiltration and potential recharge using a distributed-parameter watershed model of the Death Valley region, Nevada and California

Water-Resources Investigations Report 2003-4090
By: , and 



This report presents the development and application of the distributed-parameter watershed model, INFILv3, for estimating the temporal and spatial distribution of net infiltration and potential recharge in the Death Valley region, Nevada and California. The estimates of net infiltration quantify the downward drainage of water across the lower boundary of the root zone and are used to indicate potential recharge under variable climate conditions and drainage basin characteristics. Spatial variability in recharge in the Death Valley region likely is high owing to large differences in precipitation, potential evapotranspiration, bedrock permeability, soil thickness, vegetation characteristics, and contributions to recharge along active stream channels. The quantity and spatial distribution of recharge representing the effects of variable climatic conditions and drainage basin characteristics on recharge are needed to reduce uncertainty in modeling ground-water flow. The U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Department of Energy, developed a regional saturated-zone ground-water flow model of the Death Valley regional ground-water flow system to help evaluate the current hydrogeologic system and the potential effects of natural or human-induced changes. Although previous estimates of recharge have been made for most areas of the Death Valley region, including the area defined by the boundary of the Death Valley regional ground-water flow system, the uncertainty of these estimates is high, and the spatial and temporal variability of the recharge in these basins has not been quantified. To estimate the magnitude and distribution of potential recharge in response to variable climate and spatially varying drainage basin characteristics, the INFILv3 model uses a daily water-balance model of the root zone with a primarily deterministic representation of the processes controlling net infiltration and potential recharge. The daily water balance includes precipitation (as either rain or snow), snow accumulation, sublimation, snowmelt, infiltration into the root zone, evapotranspiration, drainage, water content change throughout the root-zone profile (represented as a 6-layered system), runoff (defined as excess rainfall and snowmelt) and surface water run-on (defined as runoff that is routed downstream), and net infiltration (simulated as drainage from the bottom root-zone layer). Potential evapotranspiration is simulated using an hourly solar radiation model to simulate daily net radiation, and daily evapotranspiration is simulated as an empirical function of root zone water content and potential evapotranspiration. The model uses daily climate records of precipitation and air temperature from a regionally distributed network of 132 climate stations and a spatially distributed representation of drainage basin characteristics defined by topography, geology, soils, and vegetation to simulate daily net infiltration at all locations, including stream channels with intermittent streamflow in response to runoff from rain and snowmelt. The temporal distribution of daily, monthly, and annual net infiltration can be used to evaluate the potential effect of future climatic conditions on potential recharge. The INFILv3 model inputs representing drainage basin characteristics were developed using a geographic information system (GIS) to define a set of spatially distributed input parameters uniquely assigned to each grid cell of the INFILv3 model grid. The model grid, which was defined by a digital elevation model (DEM) of the Death Valley region, consists of 1,252,418 model grid cells with a uniform grid cell dimension of 278.5 meters in the north-south and east-west directions. The elevation values from the DEM were used with monthly regression models developed from the daily climate data to estimate the spatial distribution of daily precipitation and air temperature. The elevation values were also used to simulate atmosp

Additional publication details

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Simulation of net infiltration and potential recharge using a distributed-parameter watershed model of the Death Valley region, Nevada and California
Series title Water-Resources Investigations Report
Series number 2003-4090
DOI 10.3133/wri034090
Edition -
Year Published 2003
Language ENGLISH
Description 171 p.