The Role of Ground Water in Generating Streamflow in Headwater Areas and in Maintaining Base Flow1


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    Paper No. J06016 of the Journal of the American Water Resources Association (JAWRA).



Abstract:  The volume and sustainability of streamflow from headwaters to downstream reaches commonly depend on contributions from ground water. Streams that begin in extensive aquifers generally have a stable point of origin and substantial discharge in their headwaters. In contrast, streams that begin as discharge from rocks or sediments having low permeability have a point of origin that moves up and down the channel seasonally, have small incipient discharge, and commonly go dry. Nearly all streams need to have some contribution from ground water in order to provide reliable habitat for aquatic organisms. Natural processes and human activities can have a substantial effect on the flow of streams between their headwaters and downstream reaches. Streams lose water to ground water when and where their head is higher than the contiguous water table. Although very common in arid regions, loss of stream water to ground water also is relatively common in humid regions. Evaporation, as well as transpiration from riparian vegetation, causing ground-water levels to decline also can cause loss of stream water. Human withdrawal of ground water commonly causes streamflow to decline, and in some regions has caused streams to cease flowing.