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Predevelopment water levels, groundwater recharge, and selected hydrologic properties of aquifer materials, Hinkley and Water Valleys, California

April 25, 2023

Hydrologic and geophysical data were collected to support updates to an existing groundwater-flow model of Hinkley Valley, California, in the Mojave Desert about 80 miles northeast of Los Angeles, California. These data provide information on predevelopment (pre-1930) water levels, groundwater recharge, and selected hydrologic properties of aquifer materials.

A predevelopment groundwater-level map, drawn using water-level measurements from 48 wells collected as early as 1918, showed groundwater movement from recharge areas along the Mojave River to evaporative discharge areas near the margin of Harper (dry) Lake in Water Valley. During predevelopment conditions, depth to water ranged from near land surface along the Mojave River to above land surface near Harper (dry) Lake, consistent with flowing wells in Water Valley at that time. Depths to water in much of Hinkley Valley downgradient from the Lockhart fault were less than 20 feet below land surface. By 2017, water-level declines as a result of agricultural pumping, were as much as 60 feet near the Hinkley compressor station.

Areal recharge from infiltration of precipitation on the valley floor is negligible. Average annual recharge as infiltration of runoff from upland drainages to Hinkley and Water Valleys averages 64.7 acre-feet per year. In most years recharge does not occur; in years when it occurs, recharge to Hinkley Valley is typically about 296 acre-feet. In contrast, average recharge as infiltration of streamflow from the Mojave River from 1931 to 2015 was between 13,400 and 17,100 acre-feet per year; in some years recharge from the Mojave River exceeded 100,000 acre-ft. Estimates of predevelopment groundwater movement through Hinkley Gap and groundwater discharge to Harper (dry) Lake ranged from 570 to 1,900 and 820 to 2,460 acre-feet per year, respectively; at the time of this study in 2017, groundwater movement through Hinkley Gap was estimated to be about 83 acre-feet per year.

Hydraulic-conductivity values estimated from slug-test data for 95 monitoring wells ranged from less than 0.1 to 680 feet per day (ft/d); values generally decreased with depth. Median hydraulic-conductivity values calculated from nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) data for Mojave River alluvium and near-shore lake deposits were 73 and 11 ft/d, respectively; median hydraulic-conductivity values for locally derived alluvium and weathered bedrock were 6 and 2 ft/d, respectively. Hydraulic-conductivity values, estimated from NMR data for formerly saturated deposits overlying the 2017 water table, were as high as 300 ft/d near the Hinkley compressor station. Downgradient from the Hinkley compressor station, formerly saturated deposits had hydraulic-conductivity values of about 150 ft/d, which were higher than values in saturated material. Coarse-textured, permeable material in formerly saturated deposits above the 2017 water table may have allowed groundwater, released from the Hinkley compressor station that may have contained Cr(VI), to move rapidly downgradient.

The Lockhart fault is an impediment to groundwater flow within Hinkley Valley. Groundwater-flow directions from horizontal point-velocity probe data were deflected to the west on the upgradient side of the fault compared to the nominal direction of groundwater flow estimated from water-level data. Younger groundwater was present on the upgradient and downgradient sides of the fault, and older groundwater with unadjusted carbon-14 ages as old as 5,650 years before present was in water from wells within splays of the Lockhart fault, consistent with limited groundwater movement across the fault. As a result, groundwater and Cr(VI) released from the Hinkley compressor station moved to the northwest along the downgradient side of the fault.

Coupled well-bore flow and depth-dependent water-quality data show water from wells C-01 and IW-03 within the Q4 2015 (October–December 2015) regulatory Cr(VI) plume was yielded from thin layers within the aquifer that are composed of well-sorted lake-margin (beach) deposits that likely have high lateral and longitudinal connectivity. Collectively, data show highly permeable deposits above the regional water table and thin permeable deposits within saturated portions of the upper aquifer that may have conducted groundwater and Cr(VI) downgradient when releases from the Hinkley compressor station first occurred.

Publication Year 2023
Title Predevelopment water levels, groundwater recharge, and selected hydrologic properties of aquifer materials, Hinkley and Water Valleys, California
DOI 10.3133/pp1885H
Authors Krishangi D. Groover, John A. Izbicki, Whitney A. Seymour, Anthony A. Brown, Randall E. Bayless, Carole D. Johnson, Katherine L. Pappas, Gregory A. Smith, Dennis A. Clark, Joshua Larsen, Meghan C. Dick, Lorraine E. Flint, Christina L. Stamos, John G. Warden
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Professional Paper
Series Number 1885
Index ID pp1885H
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization California Water Science Center