• groundwater tracers;
  • hydrochemistry;
  • isotopes;
  • catchments;
  • chemical hydrograph separation

[1] The relationship between the chemical and isotopic composition of groundwater and residence times was used to understand the temporal variability in stream hydrochemistry in Sagehen basin, California. On the basis of the relationship between groundwater age and [Ca2+], the mean residence time of groundwater feeding Sagehen Creek during base flow is approximately 28 years. [Cl]:[Ca2+] ratios in Sagehen Creek can be used to distinguish between two important processes: changes in the apparent age of groundwater discharging into the creek and dilution with snowmelt. The mean residence time of groundwater discharging into the creek is approximately 15 years during snowmelt periods. The results from this study have implications for hydrograph separation studies as groundwater is not a single, well-mixed chemical component but rather is a variable parameter that predictably depends on groundwater residence time. Most current models of catchment hydrochemistry do not account for chemical and isotopic variability found within the groundwater reservoir. In addition, this study provides valuable insight into the long-term hydrochemical response of a catchment to perturbations as catchment-flushing times are related to the mean residence time of water in a basin.