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Aquifer geometry, lithology, and water levels in the Anza–Terwilliger area—2013, Riverside and San Diego Counties, California

November 24, 2015

The population of the Anza–Terwilliger area relies solely on groundwater pumped from the alluvial deposits and surrounding bedrock formations for water supply. The size, characteristics, and current conditions of the aquifer system in the Anza–Terwilliger area are poorly understood, however. In response to these concerns, the U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the High Country Conservancy and Rancho California Water District, undertook a study to (1) improve mapping of groundwater basin geometry and lithology and (2) to resume groundwater-level monitoring last done during 2004–07 in the Anza–Terwilliger area. 

Inversion of gravity data, including new data collected for this study, was done to estimate the thickness of the alluvial deposits that form the Cahuilla and Terwilliger groundwater basins and to understand the geometry of the underlying basement complex. After processing of the gravity data, the thickness of the alluvial aquifer materials was modeled by using all available lithology, density, and geophysical data.

The thickest alluvial deposits (greater than 500 feet) are in the northern part of the study area along the south side of the San Jacinto fault zone, in the southern part of the Cahuilla groundwater basin, and in the western part of the Terwilliger groundwater basin. Through most of the area of alluvial materials, the thickness of the alluvium estimated from gravity data is less than 400 feet.

Analysis of more than 900 drillers’ logs indicated that in areas having relatively thick alluvium, particularly along the San Jacinto fault zone and in the Terwilliger Valley, the alluvium is predominantly composed of sands and gravels. Fine-textured sediments appeared to be discontinuous rather than forming laterally extensive, low-permeability layers. More than 500 drillers’ logs indicated only bedrock is present, indicating that the fractured bedrock is an important source of groundwater, primarily for domestic use, in the study area. The depths of the holes drilled into the bedrock indicated that fractures potentially supplying water to wells persist in the upper few hundred feet and that the permeable zone of the fractured bedrock extends to depths greater than weathered zones in the upper part of the basement complex.

Water-level data were collected from 59 wells during fall 2013. These data indicated that hydraulic head did not vary substantially with well depth and that the measured water levels in bedrock and alluvium were similar. Large offsets in groundwater altitude across the San Jacinto fault zone indicated that the fault zone is a barrier to groundwater flow in the northeastern part of the Anza Valley.

On the basis of data from 33 wells, water levels mostly declined between the fall of 2006 and the fall of 2013; the median decline was 5.1 feet during this period, for a median rate of decline of about 0.7 feet/year. Based on data from 40 wells, water-level changes between fall 2004 and fall 2013 were variable in magnitude and trend, but had a median decline of 2.4 feet and a median rate of decline of about 0.3 feet/ year. These differences in apparent rates of groundwater-level change highlight the value of ongoing water-level measurements to distinguish decadal, or longer term, trends in groundwater storage often associated with climatic variability and trends. Fifty-four long-term hydrographs indicated the sensitivity of groundwater levels to climatic conditions; they also showed a general decline in water levels across the study area since 1986 and, in some cases, dating back to the 1950s.

Publication Year 2015
Title Aquifer geometry, lithology, and water levels in the Anza–Terwilliger area—2013, Riverside and San Diego Counties, California
DOI 10.3133/sir20155131
Authors Matthew K. Landon, Andrew Y. Morita, Joseph M. Nawikas, Allen H. Christensen, Claudia C. Faunt, Victoria E. Langenheim
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2015-5131
Index ID sir20155131
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization California Water Science Center