Abstract

Many previous studies have demonstrated use of specific solutes or isotopes as tracers of groundwater flow. We present a technique that uses standard hydrochemical information to create statistically based hydrochemical facies, which are then used as tracers of groundwater flow.This approach reduces potential subjective bias during interpretation of single tracer data in complex systems with multiple sources or conflicting multiple tracer data. Standard hydrochemical data from 1,368 water samples that spanned more than 80 years were analyzed using cluster analysis to decipher groundwater flow paths in Indian Wells Valley (IWV), California. The statistically derived hydrochemical facies form distinct spatial patterns in which all major-ion concentrations increase progressively from Sierra Nevada (recharge) to China Lake playa (discharge), consistent with the topographically driven flow of groundwater (the typical case for basin and range flow systems). However, once individual samples could be placed in the context of the normal hydrochemical evolution, anomalies are readily identifiable. The distribution of water chemistry in the southeastern part of the IWV does not conform to the regional trend. Groundwater from that part of the IWV is statistically more similar to waters from the Kern Plateau area (in the high Sierra Nevada outside the local watershed) than to waters from the local watershed. The groundwater is interpreted to originate from the fracture-directed interbasin flow from the Kern Plateau area that is directly recharging the alluvial aquifer in the subsurface. Inclusion of this flow could substantially alter current water budgets and water resources management approaches.

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