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Determining seasonal recharge, storage changes, and specific yield using repeat microgravity and water-level measurements in the Mesilla Basin alluvial aquifer, New Mexico, 2016–2018

December 24, 2022

Increasing water demand and multi-year drought conditions within the Mesilla/Conejos-Médanos Basin near the New Mexico-Texas- Chihuahua border have resulted in diminished surface-water supplies and increased groundwater withdrawals. To better understand recharge to the shallow aquifer, the spatial and temporal groundwater storage changes, and the variability of specific yield (Sy) in the aquifer, seasonal groundwater elevation and repeat microgravity measurements were made during the irrigation release and non-release seasons of 2016, 2017, and 2018 at a network of locations near Las Cruces, New Mexico.

The data collected during this investigation were able to capture seasonal change in groundwater elevations and storage from various sources of recharge at multiple sites in the shallow aquifer. Seasonal recharge in the study area was attributed to streamflow, the application and conveyance of irrigation water, and large or sustained precipitation events. However, increasing groundwater gradients in recent decades between piezometers close to the river and those more than a kilometer from the river suggests that recharge from river seepage has become localized at the seasonal scale. Overall, there was a net increase in storage of almost 8.4 cubic hectometers in the study reach between the start and end of the study, largely following the increased surface-water availability and above average precipitation in 2017. Specific yield, estimated by comparing the groundwater-level changes and storage changes at six sites in the study area, ranged from 0.14 (+/− 0.05) to 0.30 (+/− 0.06), which is slightly greater than previously reported estimates (0.10 to 0.25), but still within the error of the estimates. Most of the variability in the estimated storage change, that was not well-correlated with groundwater elevation change, is thought to be from soil moisture in the unsaturated zone.

This investigation demonstrates the value of adding repeat microgravity measurements to conventional groundwater monitoring to better understand the sources and extent of recharge as well as the variability of Sy in the aquifer. Continued monitoring, under a variety of available surface water and meteorological conditions, could provide a more comprehensive understanding of the water budget and reduce the specific yield estimation uncertainty. Evaluating water-levels and storage conditions prior to, and following, local recharge events may help managers identify threshold conditions for aquifer storage depletions and recoveries.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2023
Title Determining seasonal recharge, storage changes, and specific yield using repeat microgravity and water-level measurements in the Mesilla Basin alluvial aquifer, New Mexico, 2016–2018
DOI 10.1016/j.jappgeo.2022.104916
Authors Andrew J. Robertson, Jeffrey Kennedy, Libby M. Kahler, Meghan T. Bell, Erek H. Fuchs, Alex Rinehart, Irene Fernald
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Journal of Applied Geophysics
Index ID 70239839
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Arizona Water Science Center; New Mexico Water Science Center