Approximately 3.8 million cubic meters of surface water was applied to spreading ponds from 2003–2007 to artificially recharge the underlying aquifer through a 200-meter thick unsaturated zone in the San Gorgonio Pass area in southern California. A study was conducted between 1997 and 2003, and a numerical model was developed to help determine the suitability of the site for artificial recharge. Ongoing monitoring results indicated that the existing model needed to be modified and recalibrated to more accurately predict artificial recharge at the site. The objective of this work was to recalibrate the model by using observation of the application rates, the rise and fall of the water level above a perching layer, and the approximate arrival time to the water table during the 5-yr monitoring period following initiation of long-term artificial recharge. Continuous monitoring of soil-matric potential, temperature, and water levels beneath the site indicated that artificial recharge reached the underlying water table between 3.75 and 4.5 yr after the initial application of the recharge water. The model was modified to allow the simulation to more adequately match the perching layer dynamics and the time of arrival at the water table. The instrumentation also showed that the lag time between changes in application of water at the surface and the response at the perching layer decreased from about 4 mo to less than 1 mo due to the wet-up of the unsaturated zone and the increase in relative permeability. The results of this study demonstrate the importance of iteratively monitoring and modeling the unsaturated zone in layered alluvial systems in the context of artificial recharge. They show that adequate geologic and hydraulic-property data on perching layers are critical to success. Continuous monitoring in the unsaturated and saturated zones beneath a site provides data to develop and constrain numerical models, better understand local unsaturated zone process, manage artificial recharge operations, and to determine the timing and volume of recoverable water for consumptive use.

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