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Use of ground-water reservoirs for storage of surface water in the San Joaquin Valley, California

January 1, 1964

The San Joaquin Valley includes roughly the southern two-thirds of the Central Valley of California, extending 250 miles from Stockton on the north to Grapevine at the foot of the Tehachapi Mountains. The valley floor ranges in width from 25 miles near Bakersfield to about 55 miles near Visalia; it has a surface area of about 10,000 square miles. More than one-quarter of all the ground water pumped for irrigation in the United States is used in this highly productive valley. Withdrawal of ground water from storage by heavy pumping not only provides a needed irrigation water supply, but it also lowers the ground-water level and makes storage space available in which to conserve excess water during periods of heavy runoff. A storage capacity estimated to be 93 million acre-feet to a depth of 200 feet is available in this ground-water reservoir. This is about nine times the combined capacity of the existing and proposed surface-water reservoirs in the San Joaquin Valley under the California Water Plan.

The landforms of the San Joaquin Valley include dissected uplands, low plains and fans, river flood plains and channels, and overflow lands and lake bottoms. Below the land surface, unconsolidated sediments derived from the surrounding mountain highlands extend downward for hundreds of feet. These unconsolidated deposits, consisting chiefly of alluvial deposits, but including some widespread lacustrine sediments, are the principal source of ground water in the valley. Ground water occurs under confined and unconfined conditions in the San Joaquin Valley. In much of the western, central, and southeastern parts of the valley, three distinct ground-water reservoirs are present. In downward succession these are 1) a body of unconfined and semiconfined fresh water in alluvial deposits of Recent, Pleistocene, and possibly later Pliocene age, overlying the Corcoran clay member of the Tulare formation; 2) a body of fresh water confined beneath the Corcoran clay member, which occurs in alluvial and lacustrine deposits of late Pliocene age or older; and 3) a body of saline connate water contained in marine sediments of middle Pliocene or older age, which underlies the fresh-water body throughout the area. In much of the eastern part of the valley, especially in the areas of the major streams, the Corcoran clay member is not present and ground water occurs as one fresh-water body to considerable depth.

The ground-water body is replenished by infiltration of rainfall, by infiltration from streams, canals, and ditches, by underflow entering the valley from tributary stream canyons, and by infiltration of excess irrigation water. In much of the valley, however, the annual rainfall is so low that little penetrates deeply, and soil-moisture deficiency is perennial. Infiltration from stream channels and canals and from irrigated fields are the principal sources of groundwater recharge. The ground-water storage capacity of the San Joaquin Valley has been estimated in an earlier report (Davis and others, 1959) as 93 million acre-feet. This is the quantity of water that would drain by gravity from the valley deposits if the regional water level were lowered from 10 to 200 feet below the land surface. Storage capacity was estimated for only the part of the valley considered to be potentially usable as a ground-water reservoir. In this study, a 200foot depth was selected as a practical valley-wide depth limit for unwatering

under full utilization of the ground-water reservoir, even though in localized areas sections in excess of 350 feet in depth have already been dewatered. Some of the factors that locally limit the utilization of the ground-water reservoir are inferior water quality, relatively impermeable surface soils, and relatively impermeable subsurface deposits. On the basis of a detailed analysis of la peg model, the subsurface geology of the San Joaquin Valley was subdivided into predominantly permeable and impermeable zones in the 1

Publication Year 1964
Title Use of ground-water reservoirs for storage of surface water in the San Joaquin Valley, California
DOI 10.3133/wsp1618
Authors G. H. Davis, B. E. Lofgren, Seymour Mack
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Water Supply Paper
Series Number 1618
Index ID wsp1618
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse