Using the Basin Characterization Model (BCM) to Estimate Natural Recharge in Indian Wells Valley, California

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Located in the northern Mojave Desert, the Indian Wells Valley has an arid environment, receiving only 4-6 inches of precipitation annually. Like most desert areas, Indian Wells Valley communities rely mostly on groundwater for their available groundwater supply. Increases in urban and agricultural development have resulted in increased groundwater pumpage for public and agricultural use, causing large water-level declines throughout the valley. Understanding the rate and amounts of natural groundwater recharge in the Indian Wells Valley is important to developing resource-management plans for the groundwater basin and the communities that depend on it.

map of Indian Wells Valley displaying subbasin boundaries and shaded by recharge in mm/year

Figure 1.  Indian Wells Valley, CA study area.  The Basin Characterization Model (BCM) was used to refine historical (1981 - 2010) rates of natural recharge into the Valley from 10 sub-watersheds. (Public Domain.)

The Indian Wells Valley is located in the northern Mojave Desert and it has an arid environment, receiving only 4-6 inches of precipitation annually. Like most desert areas, Indian Wells Valley communities rely mostly on groundwater for their available groundwater supply. Increases in urban and agricultural development have resulted in increased groundwater pumpage for public and agricultural use, causing large water-level declines throughout the valley. The USGS California Basin Characterization Model (BCM) (Flint and others, 2013) was used in a revised form to understand the rate and amounts of natural groundwater recharge in the Indian Wells Valley and to refine historical estimates of groundwater recharge in the valley. Results from this study provide validation of recharge estimates from multiple sources representing parts of the water balance, including variables such as potential and actual evapotranspiration, and streamflow measurements, and are used to evaluate historical and future patterns of natural recharge in the valley.

 

 

 

 

 

 

line graphs showing precipitation and temperature data for 3 future climate scenarios (hot/wet, hot/moderate precip, hot/dry)

Annual time series of precipitation and average air temperature for three future climate models for Indian Wells Valley, California as simulated by the Basin Characterization Model. (Public domain.)

 

 

Development of a Monthly Dataset of Historical (1981-2010) and 3 Projected Futures (2011-2099) for Climate and Hydrology for Indian Wells Valley, CA

The Indian Wells Valley BCM was developed on a monthly time step at a spatial resolution of 270 square meters (m2) with a model domain that includes the 10 sub-watersheds that surround and drain into the Indian Wells Valley (fig. 1). The BCM used historical climate data from 1981-2010, and 3 future climate projections to develop hydrologic output for the study area such as recharge, runoff, and climatic water deficit. Model inputs include topography, soil properties, and geology datasets, which are static with time; monthly gridded precipitation and temperature datasets; and monthly gridded potential evapotranspiration (PET) (Flint and others, 2013).

The Indian Wells Valley BCM was calibrated to 10 watersheds (table 1) to provide recharge, runoff and climatic water deficit estimates for current and future climate conditions following methods in Flint and others (2013) and Flint and Flint (2012).

 

Table 1. Watersheds used for BCM calibration in Indian Wells Valley
Site Name USGS Site Number Agency
South Fork Kern River near Olancha, CA 11188200 USGS
Cottonwood Creek near Cantil, CA 10264770 USGS
Ninemile Creek near Brown, CA 10264878 USGS
Little Lake Creek near Little Lake, CA 10264870 USGS
Goler Culch near Randsburg, CA 10264710 USGS
Darwin Wash near Darwin, CA 10250800 USGS
Wildrose Creek near Wildrose Station, CA 10250600 USGS
South Fork Kern River near Onyx, CA 11189500 USGS
Sand Canyon Creek --- Kern County Water Agency
Grapevine Canyon Creek --- Kern County Water Agency

 

Table 2 shows previous estimates of recharge to the principal aquifer of the Indian Wells Valley. The table shows that local calibration results of the BCM model for the time period 1981-2010 correspond very well to previous recorded estimates, providing an independent approach that corroborates the general average annual estimate of approximately 8,700 acre-feet/year.

 

Table 2. Previous Estimates of Recharge to the Principal Aquifer in Indian Wells Valley
Data Source Surface Drainage (acre-feet/year) Inflow from Rose Valley 
(acre-feet/year)
Total Natural Recharge 
(acre-feet/year)
Sierra Nevada Coso Range Argus Range El Paso Mountains Volcanics
Lee (1913) 27,000 ---- ---- 27,000
Thompson (1929) 39,000 ---- 10,000 39,000
Kunkel and Chase (1969) ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ----
Bloyd and Robson (1971) 6,235 3,160 400 ---- 45 9,795
Dutcher and Moyle (1973) ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ----
St. Amand (1986) ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ----
Austin (1988) at least 30,000 ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ----
Bean (1989) 6,300 2,000 1,000 400 ---- 400 9,700
Berenbrock and Martin (1991) 6,236 3,170 400 ---- 43 9,806
Watt (1993) 8,876 975 0 ---- ---- 9,851
Thyne and others (1999) 8,026 ---- ---- ---- ---- 1,297 8,026
Bauer (2002) ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- 3,300 ----
Brown and Caldwell (2009) 5,890 300 1,600 50 ---- 1,000 7,840
Todd (2014) 3,090 to 5,890 300 1,600 50 ---- 1,000 9,806
Reitz and others (2016) ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- 7,325
USGS (2017) statewide calibration (1981-2010) 943 655 877 203 ---- 324 valley floor 5,050
USGS (2018) local calibration (1981-2010) 4,181 741 1,006 186 1,824 742 valley floor 8,680
USGS (2018) local calibration (2000-2013) 2,295 536 829 144 1,575 597 valley floor 5,976

 

Future Climate Projections

Three future climate projections were selected from among 20 models used for California’s Fourth Climate Change Assessment for application to Indian Wells Valley. The 3 models chosen are all from the business-as-usual emissions scenario and represent a range in future projected climate conditions from wet to dry. Annual time series of precipitation and average air temperature for the three future climate models are shown in figure 2, illustrating a rise in air temperature for all models of 4-5 degrees C by end of century, and a range of changes in precipitation from +47% to -22%, depending on the model. Climate and hydrologic data for these three future projections are available via web-based download for all sub-watersheds contributing to the principal aquifer in the Indian Wells Valley.