Recharge Estimation Using Water, Chloride and Isotope Mass Balances

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Shawan Dogramaci1, Giovanni Firmani1, Paul Hedley1, Grzegorz Skrzypek2 and Pauline F Grierson2, (1)Rio Tinto Iron Ore, Perth, WA, Australia, (2)University of Western Australia, Crawley, WA, Australia
Discharge of surplus mine water into ephemeral streams may elevate groundwater levels and alter the exchange rate between streams and underlying aquifers but it is unclear whether volumes and recharge processes are within the range of natural variability. Here, we present a case study of an ephemeral creek in the semi-arid subtropical Hamersley Basin that has received continuous mine discharge for more than five years. We used a numerical model coupled with repeated measurements of water levels, chloride concentrations and the hydrogen and oxygen stable isotope composition (δ2H and δ18O) to estimate longitudinal evapotranspiration and recharge rates along a 27 km length of Weeli Wolli Creek. We found that chloride increased from 74 to 120 mg/L across this length, while δ18O increased from -8.24‰ to -7.00‰. Groundwater is directly connected to the creek for the first 13 km and recharge rates are negligible. Below this point, the creek flows over a highly permeable aquifer and water loss by recharge increases to a maximum rate of 4.4 mm/d, which accounts for ~ 65% of the total water discharged to the creek. Evapotranspiration losses account for the remaining ~35%. The calculated recharge from continuous flow due to surplus water discharge is similar to that measured for rainfall-driven flood events along the creek. Groundwater under the disconnected section of the creek is characterised by a much lower Cl concentration and more depleted δ18O value than mining discharge water but is similar to flood water generated by large episodic rainfall events. Our results suggest that the impact of recharge from continuous flow on the creek has not extended beyond 27 km from the discharge point. Our approach using a combination of hydrochemical and isotope methods coupled with classical surface flow hydraulic modelling allowed evaluation of components of water budget otherwise not possible in a highly dynamic system that is mainly driven by infrequent but large episodic floods.