Groundwater Surface Trends at Van Norden Meadow, California, from Ground Penetrating Radar Profiles

Thursday, 18 December 2014
Nicholas Illarion Tadrick1, Tanya M Blacic1 and Sarah M Yarnell2, (1)Montclair State University, Montclair, NJ, United States, (2)University of California Davis, Davis, CA, United States
Van Norden meadow in the Donner Summit area west of Lake Tahoe is one of the largest sub-alpine meadows in the Sierra Nevada mountain range. As natural water retention basins, meadows attenuate floods, improve water quality and support vegetation that stabilizes stream banks and promotes high biodiversity. Like most meadows in the Sierras however, over-grazing, road-building, and development has resulted in localized stream incision, degradation, and partial conversion from wet to dry conditions in Van Norden. Additionally, a small dam at the base of the meadow has partially flooded the lower meadow creating reservoir conditions. Privately owned since the late 1800s, Van Norden was recently purchased by a local land trust to prevent further development and return the area to public ownership. Restoration of the natural meadow conditions will involve notching the dam in 2016 to reduce currently impounded water volumes from 250 to less than 50 acre-feet.

To monitor the effects of notching the dam on the upstream meadow conditions, better understanding of the surface and groundwater hydrology both pre- and post-restoration is required. We surveyed the meadow in summer 2014 with ground penetrating radar (GPR) to map the groundwater surface prior to restoration activities using a 270MHz antenna to obtain a suite of longitudinal and transverse transects. Groundwater level within the meadow was assessed using both piezometer readings and sweeps of the GPR antenna. Seventeen piezometers were added this year to the 13 already in place to monitor temporal changes in the groundwater surface, while the GPR profiles provided information about lateral variations. Our results provide an estimate of the groundwater depth variations across the upper portion of the meadow before notching. We plan to return in 2015 to collect GPR profiles during wetter conditions, which will provide a more complete assessment of the pre-notching groundwater hydrology.