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Hydrologic connectivity of head waters and floodplains in a semi-arid watershed

TitleHydrologic connectivity of head waters and floodplains in a semi-arid watershed
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2013
AuthorsOchoa, CG, Guldan, SJ, Cibils, AF, Lopez, SC, Boykin, KG, Tidwell, VC, Fernald, AG
JournalJournal of Contemporary Water Research & Education
Keywordsgroundwater, Hydrologic connectivity, surface water

Hydrologic connectivity can be important when assessing the role of water availability and distribution in sustaining different natural processes and human activities in a given landscape. The main objectives of the study presented are to characterize the hydrologic connectivity between the uplands and the irrigated valley, through the shallow groundwater system in a semiarid watershed in the southwestern United States and to set the foundations for connections between hydrology and complementary disciplines of ecology, rangeland management, and system dynamics modeling. Study results show a strong hydrologic connectivity between surface water and groundwater in the lower agricultural valley that follows a seasonal pattern, driven primarily by irrigation contributions to the shallow aquifer. In the higher elevation areas of the watershed, the presence of perched water systems is an indicator of surface water and groundwater connectivity. A significant increase in river stage (0.3 m) was observed in response to runoff from a higher elevation frontal storm that yielded peak discharge of 17.9 m3 s-1 at a tributary monitoring station near the convergence with the Rio Grande. Preliminary results using a system dynamics model indicate a strong hydrologic connectivity between snow-melt driven runoff in the headwaters and the recharge of the shallow aquifer in the valley, mainly driven by the use of traditionally-irrigated agriculture systems. This study adds to the understanding of the interconnectedness of different hydrologic components and of the mechanisms of water distribution in semiarid landscapes. It also has established the foundation for ongoing multidisciplinary research related to traditional irrigation and community water management and the social, cultural, environmental, and economic drivers that themselves impact hydrologic connectivity.