New methods for quantifying and modeling estimates of anthropogenic and natural recharge : a case study for the Barton Springs segment of the Edwards Aquifer, Austin, Texas

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Date

2011-05

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Passarello, Michael Charles

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Abstract

Increased population and recent droughts in 1996 and 2009 for the Barton Springs segment of the Edwards Aquifer have focused attention on groundwater resources and sustainability of spring flow. These springs serve as a local iconic cultural center as well as the natural habitat for the endangered Barton Springs salamander. In response to the potential compromise of these vulnerable groundwater resources, a two-dimensional, numerical groundwater-flow model was developed for the Barton Springs / Edwards Aquifer Conservation District and other governmental entities to aid in aquifer management. The objective of this study is to develop new methods of quantifying and distributing recharge for this model. The motivation for conducting this study includes the following: recent availability of more extensive data sets, new conceptual models of the aquifer system, and the desire to incorporate estimates of urban recharge. Estimates of recharge quantities and distributions for natural and artificial sources were implemented within this model to simulate discharge at Barton Springs and water-level elevations from January, 1999 to December, 2009. Results indicate that the new methods employed generated good agreement amongst simulated and observed discharge and water-level elevations (Root mean square error of 0.5 m3 sec-1 and 10.5 m, respectively). Additionally, these recharge calculations are decoupled from Barton Springs discharge which eliminates the circular logic inherent with the previous methodology. Anthropogenic, or artificial, recharge accounts for 4% of the total recharge between January, 1999 and December, 2009. Using observed data to quantify contributions from leaky utility lines and irrigation return flows, recharge estimates were completed with spatial and temporal resolution. Analyses revealed that on a month by month basis, anthropogenic contributions can vary from <1 to 59% of the total recharge. During peak anthropogenic recharge intervals, irrigation return flow is the most significant contributor. However, leakage from utility lines provides more total recharge during the study period. Recharge contributions from artificial sources are comparable to the mid-size watershed contributions over the ten-year analysis period. Urban recharge can be a critical source for buffering seasonal fluctuations, particularly during low flow periods. Outcomes are relevant for habitat conservation, drought response planning, and urban groundwater management.

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