Bedrock Infiltration and Mountain Block Recharge Accounting Using Chloride Mass Balance

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Mountain front catchment net groundwater recharge (NR) represents the upper end of mountain block recharge (MBR) groundwater flow paths. Using environmental chloride in precipitation, streamflow and groundwater, we apply chloride mass balance (CMB) to estimate NR at multiple catchment scales within the 27 km2 Dry Creek Experimental Watershed (DCEW) on the Boise Front, southwestern Idaho. The estimate for average annual precipitation partitioning to NR is approximately 14% for DCEW. In contrast, as much as 44% of annual precipitation routes to NR in ephemeral headwater catchments. NR in headwater catchments is likely routed to downgradient springs, baseflow, and MBR, while downgradient streamflow losses contribute further to MBR. A key assumption in the CMB approach is that the change in stored chloride during the study period is zero. We found that this assumption is violated in some individual years, but that a 5-year integration period is sufficient.