Soil-Water Balance (SWB) model estimates of soil-moisture variability and groundwater recharge in the South Platte watershed, Colorado

Thursday, 17 December 2015
Poster Hall (Moscone South)
Aspen M Anderson1, Ella Louise Walker1, Terri S Hogue2 and Christopher J Ruybal2, (1)Colorado School of Mines, Golden, CO, United States, (2)Colorado School of Mines, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Golden, CO, United States
Unconventional energy production in semi-arid regions places additional stress on already over-allocated water systems. Production of shale gas and oil resources in northern Colorado has rapidly increased since 2010, and is expected to continue growing due to advances in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing. This unconventional energy production has implications for the availability of water in the South Platte watershed, where water demand for hydraulic fracturing of unconventional shale resources reached ~16,000 acre-feet in 2014. Groundwater resources are often exploited to meet water demands for unconventional energy production in regions like the South Platte basin, where surface water supply is limited and allocated across multiple uses. Since groundwater is often a supplement to surface water in times of drought and peak demand, variability in modeled recharge estimates can significantly impact projected availability. In the current work we used the Soil-Water Balance Model (SWB) to assess the variability in model estimates of actual evapotranspiration (ET) and soil-moisture conditions utilized to derive estimates of groundwater recharge. Using both point source and spatially distributed data, we compared modeled actual ET and soil-moisture derived from several potential ET methods, such as Thornthwaite-Mather, Jense-Haise, Turc, and Hargreaves-Samani, to historic soil moisture conditions obtained through sources including the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE). In addition to a basin-scale analysis, we divided the South Platte watershed into sub-basins according to land cover to evaluate model capabilities of estimating soil-moisture parameters with variations in land cover and topography. Results ultimately allow improved prediction of groundwater recharge under future scenarios of climate and land cover change. This work also contributes to complementary subsurface groundwater modeling and decision support modeling in the South Platte.