US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



Ground Water, Vol. 44, No. 6, November- December 2006 (pp. 837-852); doi: 10.1111/j.1745-6584.2006.00190.x


Low river flows are commonly controlled by river-aquifer exchange, the magnitude of which is governed by hydraulic properties of both aquifer and aquitard materials beneath the river. Low flows are often important ecologically. Numerical simulations were used to assess how textural heterogeneity of an alluvial system influences river seepage and low flows. The Cosumnes River in California was used as a test case. Declining fall flows in the Cosumnes River have threatened Chinook salmon runs. A ground water–surface water model for the lower river basin was developed, which incorporates detailed geostatistical simulations of aquifer heterogeneity. Six different realizations of heterogeneity and a homogenous model were run for a 3-year period. Net annual seepage from the river was found to be similar among the models. However, spatial distribution of seepage along the channel, water table configuration and the level of local connection, and disconnection between the river and aquifer showed strong variations among the different heterogeneous models. Most importantly, the heterogeneous models suggest that river seepage losses can be reduced by local reconnections, even when the regional water table remains well below the riverbed. The percentage of river channel responsible for 50% of total river seepage ranged from 10% to 26% in the heterogeneous models as opposed to 23% in the homogeneous model. Differences in seepage between the models resulted in up to 13 d difference in the number of days the river was open for salmon migration during the critical fall months in one given year.