Report Abstract

MOUNTAIN-FRONT RECHARGE ALONG THE EASTERN SIDE OF THE MIDDLE RIO GRANDE BASIN, CENTRAL NEW MEXICO

By Scott K. Anderholm

Mountain-front recharge, which generally occurs along the margins of alluvial basins, can be a large part of total recharge to the aquifer system in such basins. Mountain-front recharge occurs as the result of infiltration of flow from streams that have headwaters in the mountainous areas adjacent to alluvial basins and ground- water flow from the aquifers in the mountainous areas to the aquifer in the alluvial basin.

This report presents estimates of mountain-front recharge to the basin-fill aquifer along the eastern side of the Middle Rio Grande Basin in central New Mexico. The basin is a structural feature that contains a large thickness of basin-fill deposits, which compose the main aquifer in the basin. The basin is bounded along the eastern side by mountains composed of crystalline rocks of Precambrian age and sedimentary rocks of Paleozoic age. Precipitation is much larger in the mountains than in the basin; many stream channels debouch from the mountainous area to the basin.

Chloride-balance and water-yield regression methods were used to estimate mountain-front recharge. The chloride-balance method was used to calculate a chloride balance in watersheds in the mountainous areas along the eastern side of the basin (subareas). The source of chloride to these watersheds is bulk precipitation (wet and dry deposition). Chloride leaves these watersheds as mountain-front recharge. The water-yield regression method was used to determine the streamflow from the mountainous watersheds at the mountain front. This streamflow was assumed to be equal to mountain-front recharge because most of this streamflow infiltrates and recharges the basin-fill aquifer.

Total mountain-front recharge along the eastern side of the Middle Rio Grande Basin was estimated to be about 11,000 acre- feet per year using the chloride-balance method and about 36,000 and 38,000 acre-feet per year using two water-yield regression equations. There was a large range in the recharge estimates in a particular subarea using the different methods. Mountain-front recharge ranged from 0.7 to 15 percent of total annual precipitation in the subareas (percent recharge). Some of the smallest values of percent recharge were in the subareas in the southern part of the basin, which generally have low altitudes. The larger percent-recharge values were from subareas with higher altitudes.

With existing information, determining which of the mountain- front recharge estimates is most accurate and the reasons for discrepancies among the different estimates is not possible. The chloride-balance method underestimates recharge if the chloride concentration used in the calculations for precipitation is too small or the chloride concentration in recharge is too large. Water-yield regression methods overestimate recharge if the amount of evapotranspiration of water that infiltrates into the channel bed of arroyos during runoff from summer thunderstorms is large.

Abstract from Water-Resources Investigations Report 00-4010



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