Articles | Volume 19, issue 2
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 19, 1107–1123, 2015
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-19-1107-2015

Special issue: Groundwater resources and their ecosystem services: new methods...

Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 19, 1107–1123, 2015
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-19-1107-2015

Research article 26 Feb 2015

Research article | 26 Feb 2015

A groundwater recharge perspective on locating tree plantations within low-rainfall catchments to limit water resource losses

J. F. Dean1,2,*, J. A. Webb1,2, G. E. Jacobsen3, R. Chisari3, and P. E. Dresel4 J. F. Dean et al.
  • 1Agricultural Sciences Department, La Trobe University, Bundoora, Victoria, Australia
  • 2National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training, Adelaide, Australia
  • 3Institute for Environmental Research, ANSTO, Sydney, Australia
  • 4Department of Environment and Primary Industries, Bendigo, Victoria, Australia
  • *now at: Biological and Environmental Sciences, University of Stirling, Scotland, UK

Abstract. Despite the many studies that consider the impacts of plantation forestry on groundwater recharge, and others that explore the spatial heterogeneity of recharge in low-rainfall regions, there is little marriage of the two subjects in forestry management guidelines and legislation. Here we carry out an in-depth analysis of the impact of reforestation on groundwater recharge in a low-rainfall (< 700 mm annually), high-evapotranspiration paired catchment characterized by ephemeral streams. Water table fluctuation (WTF) estimates of modern recharge indicate that little groundwater recharge occurs along the topographic highs of the catchments (average 18 mm yr−1); instead the steeper slopes in these areas direct runoff downslope to the lowland areas, where most recharge occurs (average 78 mm yr−1). Recharge estimates using the chloride mass balance (CMB) method were corrected by replacing the rainfall input Cl value with that for streamflow, because most recharge occurs from infiltration of runoff through the streambed and adjacent low gradient slopes. The calculated CMB recharge values (average 10 mm yr−1) are lower than the WTF recharge values (average 47 mm yr−1), because they are representative of groundwater that was mostly recharged prior to European land clearance (> BP 200 years). The tree plantation has caused a progressive drawdown in groundwater levels due to tree water use; the decline is less in the upland areas.

The results of this study show that spatial variations in recharge are important considerations for locating tree plantations. To conserve water resources for downstream users in low-rainfall, high-evapotranspiration regions, tree planting should be avoided in the dominant zone of recharge, i.e. the topographically low areas and along the drainage lines, and should be concentrated on the upper slopes, although this may negatively impact the economic viability of the plantation.

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Short summary
This paper examines modern and historical groundwater recharge rates to determine the impacts of reforestation in south-eastern Australia. This study shows that over both the long and short term, groundwater recharge in the study area occurs predominantly in the lower catchment areas. The results of this study show that spatial variations in recharge are important considerations for locating tree plantations, especially when looking to conserve water for downstream users in low rainfall regions.