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Estimating natural recharge in San Gorgonio Pass watersheds, California, 1913–2012

December 21, 2015

A daily precipitation-runoff model was developed to estimate spatially and temporally distributed recharge for groundwater basins in the San Gorgonio Pass area, southern California. The recharge estimates are needed to define transient boundary conditions for a groundwater-flow model being developed to evaluate the effects of pumping and climate on the long-term availability of groundwater. The area defined for estimating recharge is referred to as the San Gorgonio Pass watershed model (SGPWM) and includes three watersheds: San Timoteo Creek, Potrero Creek, and San Gorgonio River. The SGPWM was developed by using the U.S. Geological Survey INFILtration version 3.0 (INFILv3) model code used in previous studies of recharge in the southern California region, including the San Gorgonio Pass area. The SGPWM uses a 150-meter gridded discretization of the area of interest in order to account for spatial variability in climate and watershed characteristics. The high degree of spatial variability in climate and watershed characteristics in the San Gorgonio Pass area is caused, in part, by the high relief and rugged topography of the area.

Daily climate data developed from a network of monitoring sites and published average monthly precipitation maps were used to develop the climate inputs for the SGPWM. Geographic Information System (GIS) data defining land surface altitude, vegetation, soils, surficial geology, and land cover were used to define input parameters representing the physical characteristics of the land surface, root zone, and shallow subsurface underlying the root zone. Model parameterization was based on a previous INFILv3 model developed for an area including the upper parts of the San Timoteo Creek and Potrero Creek drainages and the western part of the San Gorgonio River watershed. The previous INFILv3 model was calibrated by using available streamflow records from the model area. The SGPWM uses an updated INFILv3 version to represent shallow groundwater flow better beneath the root zone that contributes to lateral, downslope seepage rather than deep recharge. The SGPWM calibration was tested by using available streamflow records in the San Gorgonio Pass region.

The SGPWM was used to simulate a 100-year water budget, including recharge and runoff, for water years 1913 through 2012. Results indicated that most recharge came from episodic infiltration of surface-water runoff in the larger stream channels. Results also indicated periods of great variability in recharge and runoff in response to variability in precipitation. More recharge was simulated for the area of the groundwater basin underlying the more permeable alluvial fill of the valley floor compared to recharge in the neighboring upland areas of the less permeable mountain blocks. The greater recharge was in response to the episodic streamflow that discharged from the mountain block areas and quickly infiltrated the permeable alluvial fill of the groundwater basin. Although precipitation at the higher altitudes of the mountain block was more than double precipitation at the lower altitudes of the valley floor, recharge for inter-channel areas of the mountain block was limited by the lower permeability bedrock underlying the thin soil cover, and most of the recharge in the mountain block was limited to the main stream channels underlain by alluvial fill.

Publication Year 2015
Title Estimating natural recharge in San Gorgonio Pass watersheds, California, 1913–2012
DOI 10.3133/sir20155122
Authors Joseph A. Hevesi, Allen H. Christensen
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2015-5122
Index ID sir20155122
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization California Water Science Center