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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Point- and reach-scale measurements are important for determining accurate seepage rates in controlled flow channels


A critical component of water-resources management in the irrigated agriculture landscape, particularly those landscapes dependent on groundwater availability, is determining groundwater recharge rates from streams and other channels. In California, flows in many such channels are “controlled” by upstream reservoir releases to meet downstream urban, irrigation and environmental water requirements. Seepage volumes from these channels and how they might vary during controlled release periods is a key component of meeting downstream riparian and groundwater-pumping needs. Understanding annual seepage from streamflow channels is also important in developing water budgets as part of the management of groundwater resources under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) in California. However, direct measurements of channel seepage rates are infrequent or unavailable, and these rates, or associated volumes, are most often only estimated. Here we describe direct point- and reach-scale field measurements of channel seepage rates in Lower Putah Creek (Solano County) and in distribution lateral channels of the Oakdale Irrigation District on the east side of the San Joaquin Valley (San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties). We measured overall average seepage rates of about 2 feet (610 mm) per day at both locations and determined how these rates varied spatially and temporally during the summer when channel flows are controlled for downstream requirements.

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