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Monitoring aquifer-storage change from artificial recharge with repeat microgravity along Santa Cruz River, Tucson, Arizona, 2019–22

March 21, 2024

The City of Tucson water utility, Tucson Water, began releasing treated effluent into the Santa Cruz River channel near downtown Tucson in 2019. This recharge project—the Heritage Project—is intended to create a reach of consistent flow in the channel and recharge water to the aquifer. Tracking the dispersal of recharged water is important for management decisions because groundwater movement depends on spatially variable characteristics of the subsurface and cannot be fully predicted in advance. Groundwater-level measurements in wells are useful, but the relation between water storage and groundwater-level change depends on the unknown storage coefficient of the aquifer. To estimate storage changes caused by recharge of reclaimed effluent released into the channel for the Heritage Project, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) collected repeat microgravity data along the Santa Cruz River in Tucson, Arizona, from 2019 to 2022. This method augments groundwater-level monitoring by providing a direct quantitative measurement of changes in the quantity of water stored in the subsurface.

Preliminary results of the monitoring through 2022 showed consistent storage increases only near and upstream from the Heritage Project outfall site. Initially high storage increases at some locations west of the channel and in line with Sentinel Peak reached roughly steady state in later times. North of Sentinel Peak, a storage increase from 2020 to 2021 was followed by a storage decrease from 2021 to 2022. Storage changes in the area north of Sentinel Peak appear to be related to the number of days flows in the channel were observed farther downstream from the outfall site (at USGS streamgage 09482500). This observation is likely due to the potential formation of a clogging layer that would allow surface water to disperse farther horizontally (downstream) before infiltrating. This phenomenon has been observed downstream of other recharged effluent projects and has been reduced by large flows in the channel, such as those occurring during large runoff events. There were no large or consistent storage increases near the Water Quality Assurance Revolving Fund (WQARF) sites included in this study area.

Publication Year 2024
Title Monitoring aquifer-storage change from artificial recharge with repeat microgravity along Santa Cruz River, Tucson, Arizona, 2019–22
DOI 10.3133/sir20235115
Authors Libby M. Wildermuth, Jacob L. Conrad
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2023-5115
Index ID sir20235115
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Arizona Water Science Center