Assessment of groundwater response to droughts in a complex runoff-dominated watershed by using an integrated hydrologic model

Thursday, 18 December 2014
Linda R Woolfenden, USGS California Water Science Center Sacramento, Sacramento, CA, United States, Joseph A Hevesi, U.S. Geological Survey, Sacramento, CA, United States and Tracy Nishikawa, USGS California Water Science Center San Diego, San Diego, CA, United States
Groundwater is an important component of the water supply, especially during droughts, within the Santa Rosa Plain watershed (SRPW), California, USA. The SRPW is 680 km2 and includes a network of natural and engineered stream channels. Streamflow is strongly seasonal, with high winter flows, predominantly intermittent summer flows, and comparatively rapid response time to larger storms. Groundwater flow is influenced primarily by complex geology, spatial and temporal variation in recharge, and pumping for urban, agricultural, and rural demands. Results from an integrated hydrologic model (GSFLOW) for the SRPW were analyzed to assess the effect of droughts on groundwater resources during water years 1976-2010. Model results indicate that, in general, below-average precipitation during historical drought periods reduced groundwater recharge (focused within stream channels and diffuse outside of channels on alluvial plains), groundwater evapotranspiration (ET), and groundwater discharge to streams (baseflow). In addition, recharge during wet periods was not sufficient to replenish groundwater-storage losses caused by drought and groundwater pumping, resulting in an overall 150 gigaliter loss in groundwater storage for water years 1976-2010. During drought periods, lower groundwater levels from reduced recharge broadly increased the number and length of losing-stream reaches, and seepage losses in streams became a higher percentage of recharge relative to the diffuse recharge outside of stream channels (for example, seepage losses in streams were 36% of recharge in 2006 and 57% at the end of the 2007-09 drought). Reductions in groundwater storage during drought periods resulted in decreased groundwater ET (loss of riparian habitat) and baseflow, especially during the warmer and dryer months (May through September) when groundwater is the dominant component of streamflow.