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Large Precipitation Events are Critical in Replenishing Groundwater Resources

Media Contact: Peter Soeth, 303-445-3615
Jennifer LaVista at 303-202-4764 (USGS), Melissa Masbruch at 801-908-5068 (USGS)

For Release: October 11, 2016

Great Basin area in the northern Snake Range near the Utah/Nevada boarder.
Great Basin area in the northern Snake Range near the Utah/Nevada boarder.
Large precipitation events that occur about every 10 years are a critical source of recharge for replenishing groundwater resources, according to a new study by the U.S. Geological Survey and the Bureau of Reclamation.

Groundwater is a vital source of water in the western United States, and will be increasingly important with continued population growth and climate variability. Understanding the role of these large recharge events in replenishing aquifers and sustaining water supplies is crucial for long-term groundwater management.

This is one of the first studies in the region to investigate the effects of climate on groundwater resources. USGS scientists identified and analyzed large, multi-year, quasi-decadal groundwater recharge events in the northern Utah portion of the Great Basin from 1960 to 2013. Researchers evaluated groundwater levels and climate information and identified five large recharge events with a frequency of about 11 to 13 years. Findings show these events provide a significant amount of groundwater recharge and storage across the northern Great Basin, causing water levels to rise in aquifers.

"Informed decisions for water management now and in the future rely on understanding the surface and groundwater resources within a river basin," Reclamation's Subhrendu Gangopadhyay said. "Understanding historical groundwater recharge provides context to better manage groundwater in the future under a variable climate."

There has been a considerable amount of research linking climatic variability to hydrologic responses; however, most of these studies focus on surface-water resources. The implications of this work indicate if the magnitude or frequency of these recharge events change there will be significant impacts on groundwater, specifically long-term availability, use and sustainability.

“These large recharge events are vital in replenishing and maintaining groundwater storage, especially after multiple years of below average precipitation across the region,” said USGS scientist and lead author of the study, Melissa Masbruch. “Without them, groundwater resources become depleted.”

Large groundwater recharge events are characterized by above-average annual precipitation and below-average seasonal temperatures, especially during the spring (April through June). Existing groundwater flow models were used to simulate changes in groundwater storage in several basins throughout the study area from these events.

Great Basin area in the northern Snake Range.
Great Basin area in the northern Snake Range.

Great Basin area in the northern Snake Range.
Great Basin area in the northern Snake Range.

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