The increased use of reclaimed water for artificial groundwater recharge purposes has led to concerns about future groundwater quality, particularly as it relates to the introduction of new organic and inorganic contaminants into the subsurface. Here we review the development and initial application of a detailed numerical model of groundwater flow and migration in a region encompassing a large groundwater recharge operation in Orange County, California. The model is based upon a novel representation of geologic heterogeneity, which has long been known to influence local flow and transport behavior in the subsurface. The model and complementary series of isotopic analyses provide an improved scientific basis to understand flow paths, migration rates, and residence times of recharged groundwater, as well as to identify the source composition of water produced in wells near the recharge operation. From a management perspective these issues need to be confronted in order to respond to proposed regulatory constraints that would govern the operation of recharge facilities and nearby production wells. While model calibration is greatly aided by isotopic source and residence time analyses, the model also provides unique insights on the interpretation of isotopic data themselves. Isotopic estimates of groundwater age help discriminate between several equally acceptable simulations calibrated to head data only. However, the results also suggest that groundwater reaching a well spans a wide-ranging distribution of age, demonstrating the importance of geologic heterogeneity in affecting flow paths, mixing, and residence times in the vicinity of recharge basins and wells.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Water Science and Technology