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Hydrogeology of a groundwater sustained montane peatland: Grass Lake, California


Persistently wet conditions are essential to prevent the decomposition of organic material that forms peatlands. Wetlands in areas with a snow-melt dominated precipitation regime and little or no summer precipitation often rely on groundwater to meet late-season water requirements. Past and predicted changes in climate for the Sierra Nevada show a trend towards more winter precipitation falling as rain rather than snow. This is expected to result in reduced late-season water availability and the subsequent degradation of peatlands. Measurements of groundwater levels, stream flow, specific conductance, and peat water retention characteristics are used to quantify aspects of the hydrologic system that supports Grass Lake, south of Lake Tahoe California, the largest peatland in the Sierra Nevada. Water budget calculations using periodic measurements collected throughout the growing season show that groundwater discharge is a significant component of the water balance in the late-summer and fall. Late-season evapotranspiration needs were approximately balanced by groundwater inflow for 2010 (average water year). Groundwater discharge to the peatland dominated the late-season water budget in 2011 (above average water year) and persisted into October. Water retention experiments and field data suggest desaturation of the peatland accounts for approximately 0.5 mm day−1, or roughly 10 % of the estimated evapotranspiration rate.

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