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Hydrochemical tracers in the middle Rio Grande Basin, USA: 1. Conceptualization of groundwater flow

January 1, 2004

Chemical and isotopic data for groundwater from throughout the Middle Rio Grande Basin, central New Mexico, USA, were used to identify and map groundwater flow from 12 sources of water to the basin, evaluate radiocarbon ages, and refine the conceptual model of the Santa Fe Group aquifer system.

Hydrochemical zones, representing groundwater flow over thousands to tens of thousands of years, can be traced over large distances through the primarily siliciclastic aquifer system. The locations of the hydrochemical zones mostly reflect the “modern” predevelopment hydraulic-head distribution, but are inconsistent with a trough in predevelopment water levels in the west-central part of the basin, indicating that this trough is a transient rather than a long-term feature of the aquifer system. Radiocarbon ages adjusted for geochemical reactions, mixing, and evapotranspiration/dilution processes in the aquifer system were nearly identical to the unadjusted radiocarbon ages, and ranged from modern to more than 30 ka. Age gradients from piezometer nests ranged from 0.1 to 2 year cm–1 and indicate a recharge rate of about 3 cm year–1 for recharge along the eastern mountain front and infiltration from the Rio Grande near Albuquerque. There has been appreciably less recharge along the eastern mountain front north and south of Albuquerque.

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