Articles | Volume 16, issue 10
Research article
26 Oct 2012
Research article |  | 26 Oct 2012

A basin-scale approach for assessing water resources in a semiarid environment: San Diego region, California and Mexico

L. E. Flint, A. L. Flint, B. J. Stolp, and W. R. Danskin

Abstract. Many basins throughout the world have sparse hydrologic and geologic data, but have increasing demands for water and a commensurate need for integrated understanding of surface and groundwater resources. This paper demonstrates a methodology for using a distributed parameter water-balance model, gaged surface-water flow, and a reconnaissance-level groundwater flow model to develop a first-order water balance. Flow amounts are rounded to the nearest 5 million cubic meters per year.

The San Diego River basin is 1 of 5 major drainage basins that drain to the San Diego coastal plain, the source of public water supply for the San Diego area. The distributed parameter water-balance model (Basin Characterization Model) was run at a monthly timestep for 1940–2009 to determine a median annual total water inflow of 120 million cubic meters per year for the San Diego region. The model was also run specifically for the San Diego River basin for 1982–2009 to provide constraints to model calibration and to evaluate the proportion of inflow that becomes groundwater discharge, resulting in a median annual total water inflow of 50 million cubic meters per year. On the basis of flow records for the San Diego River at Fashion Valley (US Geological Survey gaging station 11023000), when corrected for upper basin reservoir storage and imported water, the total is 30 million cubic meters per year. The difference between these two flow quantities defines the annual groundwater outflow from the San Diego River basin at 20 million cubic meters per year. These three flow components constitute a first-order water budget estimate for the San Diego River basin. The ratio of surface-water outflow and groundwater outflow to total water inflow are 0.6 and 0.4, respectively. Using total water inflow determined using the Basin Characterization Model for the entire San Diego region and the 0.4 partitioning factor, groundwater outflow from the San Diego region, through the coastal plain aquifer to the Pacific Ocean, is calculated to be approximately 50 million cubic meters per year.

The area-scale assessment of water resources highlights several hydrologic features of the San Diego region. Groundwater recharge is episodic; the Basin Characterization Model output shows that 90 percent of simulated recharge occurred during 3 percent of the 1982–2009 period. The groundwater aquifer may also be quite permeable. A reconnaissance-level groundwater flow model for the San Diego River basin was used to check the water budget estimates, and the basic interaction of the surface-water and groundwater system, and the flow values, were found to be reasonable. Horizontal hydraulic conductivity values of the volcanic and metavolcanic bedrock in San Diego region range from 1 to 10 m per day. Overall, results establish an initial hydrologic assessment formulated on the basis of sparse hydrologic data. The described flow variability, extrapolation, and unique characteristics represent a realistic view of current (2012) hydrologic understanding for the San Diego region.