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Hydrology of the middle San Pedro area, southeastern Arizona

May 5, 2015

In the middle San Pedro Watershed in southeastern Arizona, groundwater is the primary source of water supply for municipal, domestic, industrial, and agricultural use. The watershed comprises two smaller subareas, the Benson subarea and the Narrows-Redington subarea. Early 21st century projections for heavy population growth in the watershed have not yet become a reality, but increased groundwater withdrawals could have undesired consequences - such as decreased base flow to the San Pedro River, and groundwater-level declines - that would lead to the need to deepen existing wells. This report describes the hydrology, hydrochemistry, water quality, and development of a groundwater budget for the middle San Pedro Watershed, focusing primarily on the elements of groundwater movement that could be most useful for the development of a groundwater model

Precipitation data from Tombstone, Arizona, and base flow at the stream-gaging station on the San Pedro River at Charleston both show relatively dry periods during the 1960s through the mid-1980s and in the mid-1990s to 2009, and wetter periods from the mid-1980s through the mid-1990s. Water levels in four out of five wells near the mountain fronts show cyclical patterns of recharge, with rates of recharge greatest in the early 1980s through the mid-1990s. Three wells near the San Pedro River recorded their lowest levels during the 1950s to the mid-1960s. The water-level record from one well, completed in the confined part of the coarse-grained lower basin fill, showed a decline of approximately 21 meters.

Annual flow of the San Pedro River, measured at the Charleston and Redington gages, has decreased since the 1940s. The median annual streamflow and base flow at the gaging station on the river near Tombstone has decreased by 50 percent between the periods 1968–1986 and 1997–2009. Estimates of streamflow infiltration along the San Pedro River during 1914–2009 have decreased 44 percent, with the largest decreases in the months June–October in the Benson subarea. In the Narrows-Redington subarea, streamflow infiltration has decreased about 65 percent during 1914–2009.

The average annual outflow (27.6 hm3/year [cubic hectometers per year]) from the Benson subarea aquifer for water years 2001 through 2009 exceeded the inflows (20.0 hm3/ yr) by 7.60 hm3/yr. In the Narrows-Redington subarea for the same period, the average annual outflow (15.7 hm3/yr) from the aquifer system exceeded the inflows (13.8 hm3/yr) by nearly 2 hm3/yr. The largest withdrawals of groundwater in both subareas are for irrigation; these withdrawals peaked in 1973 and have been steadily decreasing since then. Recharge from streamflow infiltration exceeded recharge from the mountain-front and from ephemeral channels in the Benson subarea. In the Narrows-Redington subarea, however, recharge from mountain-front and ephemeral channel recharge exceeded recharge from streamflow infiltration. Evapotranspiration by phreatophytes accounts for the largest outflow of groundwater for both subareas—78 percent of the outflow in the Narrows-Redington subarea and 62 percent of the outflow in the Benson subarea.

Precipitation, surface-water, and groundwater chemistry and isotope data indicated the relative age and residence time of groundwater, the amount of interaction between geologic sources and groundwater, and how recharge elevation and season were related to the presence of modern water. The bedrock aquifer receives modern recharge (

Publication Year 2015
Title Hydrology of the middle San Pedro area, southeastern Arizona
DOI 10.3133/sir20135040
Authors Jeffrey T. Cordova, Jesse E. Dickinson, Kimberly R. Beisner, Candice B. Hopkins, Jeffrey R. Kennedy, Donald R. Pool, Edward P. Glenn, Pamela L. Nagler, Blakemore E. Thomas
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2013-5040
Index ID sir20135040
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Arizona Water Science Center