Where Does the Ground Water in Small Watersheds Come From?


  • Published in 2003 by the National Ground Water Association.


Surface water and ground water watersheds commonly do not coincide. This condition is particularly relevant to understanding biogeochemical processes in small watersheds, where detailed accounting of water and solute fluxes commonly are done. Ground water watersheds are not as easily defined as surface watersheds because (1) they are not observable from land surface; (2) ground water flow systems of different magnitude can be superimposed on one another; and (3) ground water divides may move in response to dynamic recharge and discharge conditions. Field studies of relatively permeable terrain in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Nebraska indicate that lakes and wetlands in small watersheds located near the lower end of extensive ground water flow systems receive ground water inflow from shallow flow systems that extend far beyond their surface watershed, and they may also receive ground water inflow from deeper regional flow systems that pass at depth beneath local flow systems. Field studies of mountainous terrain that have low-permeability deposits in New Hampshire and Costa Rica also indicate that surface water bodies receive ground water inflow from sources beyond their local surface watersheds. Field studies of lakes and wetlands in North Dakota, Nebraska, and Germany indicate that ground water divides move in response to changing climate conditions, resulting in a variable source of ground water inflow to those surface water bodies.