Using hydraulic head, chloride and electrical conductivity data to distinguish between mountain-front and mountain-block recharge to basin aquifers
Cranswick, Roger Harvard
Banks, Edward Wallace
Cook, Peter G
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Numerous basin aquifers in arid and semi-arid regions of the world derive a significant portion of their recharge from adjacent mountains. Such recharge can effectively occur through either stream infiltration in the mountain-front zone (mountain-front recharge, MFR) or subsurface flow from the mountain (mountain-block recharge, MBR). While a thorough understanding of recharge mechanisms is critical for conceptualizing and managing groundwater systems, distinguishing between MFR and MBR is difficult. We present an approach that uses hydraulic head, chloride and electrical conductivity (EC) data to distinguish between MFR and MBR. These variables are inexpensive to measure, and may be readily available from hydrogeological databases in many cases. Hydraulic heads can provide information on groundwater flow directions and stream–aquifer interactions, while chloride concentrations and EC values can be used to distinguish between different water sources if these have a distinct signature. Such information can provide evidence for the occurrence or absence of MFR and MBR. This approach is tested through application to the Adelaide Plains basin, South Australia. The recharge mechanisms of this basin have long been debated, in part due to difficulties in understanding the hydraulic role of faults. Both hydraulic head and chloride (equivalently, EC) data consistently suggest that streams are gaining in the adjacent Mount Lofty Ranges and losing when entering the basin. Moreover, the data indicate that not only the Quaternary aquifers but also the deeper Tertiary aquifers are recharged through MFR and not MBR. It is expected that this finding will have a significant impact on the management of water resources in the region. This study demonstrates the relevance of using hydraulic head, chloride and EC data to distinguish between MFR and MBR.