Mapping Mountain Front Recharge Areas in Arid Watersheds Based on a Digital Elevation Model and Land Cover Types


A recent assessment that quantified potential impacts of solar energy development on water resources in the southwestern United States necessitated the development of a methodology to identify locations of mountain front recharge (MFR) in order to guide land development decisions. A spatially explicit, slope-based algorithm was created to delineate MFR zones in 17 arid, mountainous watersheds using elevation and land cover data. Slopes were calculated from elevation data and grouped into 100 classes using iterative self-organizing classification. Candidate MFR zones were identified based on slope classes that were consistent with MFR. Land cover types that were inconsistent with groundwater recharge were excluded from the candidate areas to determine the final MFR zones. No MFR reference maps exist for comparison with the study’s results, so the reliability of the resulting MFR zone maps was evaluated qualitatively using slope, surficial geology, soil, and land cover datasets. MFR zones ranged from 74 km2 to 1547 km2 and accounted for 40% of the total watershed area studied. Slopes and surficial geologic materials that were present in the MFR zones were consistent with conditions at the mountain front, while soils and land cover that were present would generally promote groundwater recharge. Visual inspection of the MFR zone maps also confirmed the presence of well-recognized alluvial fan features in several study watersheds. While qualitative evaluation suggested that the algorithm reliably delineated MFR zones in most watersheds overall, the algorithm was better suited for application in watersheds that had characteristic Basin and Range topography and relatively flat basin floors than areas without these characteristics. Because the algorithm performed well to reliably delineate the spatial distribution of MFR, it would allow researchers to quantify aspects of the hydrologic processes associated with MFR and help local land resource managers to consider protection of critical groundwater recharge regions in their development decisions.

Share and Cite:

Bowen, E. , Hamada, Y. and O’Connor, B. (2014) Mapping Mountain Front Recharge Areas in Arid Watersheds Based on a Digital Elevation Model and Land Cover Types. Journal of Water Resource and Protection, 6, 756-771. doi: 10.4236/jwarp.2014.68072.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


[1] Keese, K.E., Scanlon, B.R. and Reedy, R.C. (2005) Assessing Controls on Diffuse Groundwater Recharge Using Unsaturated Flow Modeling. Water Resources Research, 41.
[2] Stonestrom, D.A. and Harrill, J.R. (2007) Chapter A—Climatic and Geologic Framework. In: Stonestrom, D.A., Ed., Ground-Water Recharge in the Arid and Semiarid Southwestern United States, US Geological Survey, Reston.
[3] Copeland, H.E., Pocewicz, A. and Kiesecker, J.M. (2011) Geography of Energy Development in Western North America: Potential Impacts on Terrestrial Ecosystems. In: Naugle, D.E., Ed., Energy Development and Wildlife Conservation in Western North America, Island Press, Washington DC.
[4] Leu, M., Hanser, S.E. and Knick, S.T. (2008) The Human Footprint in the West: A Large-Scale Analysis of Anthropogenic Impacts. Ecological Applications, 18, 1119-1139.
[5] US Bureau of Land Management and US Department of Energy (2012) Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) for Solar Energy Development in Six Southwestern States. Bureau of Land Management and US Department of Energy, Bureau of Land Management, Washington DC.
[6] Aishlin, P. and McNamara, J.P. (2011) Bedrock Infiltration and Mountain Block Recharge Accounting Using Chloride Mass Balance. Hydrological Processes, 25, 1934-1948.
[7] Covino, T.P. and McGlynn, B.L. (2007) Stream Gains and Losses across a Mountain-to-Valley Transition: Impacts on Watershed Hydrology and Stream Water Chemistry. Water Resources Research, 43.
[8] Manning, A. and Solomon, D. (2003) Using Noble Gases to Investigate Mountain-Front Recharge. Journal of Hydrology, 275, 194-207.
[9] Scanlon, B.R., Keese, K.E., Flint, A.L., Flint, L.E., Gaye, C.B., Edmunds, W.M. and Simmers, I. (2006) Global Synthesis of Groundwater Recharge in Semiarid and Arid Regions. Hydrological Processes, 20, 3335-3370.
[10] Grimm, N.B., Chacon, A., Dahm, C.N., Hostetler, S.W., Lind, O.T., Starkweather, P.L. and Wurtsbaugh, W.W. (1997) Sensitivity of Aquatic Ecosystems to Climatic and Anthropogenic Changes: The Basin and Range, American Southwest and Mexico. Hydrological Processes, 11, 1023-1041.<
[11] Welch, L.A. and Allen, D.M. (2012) Consistency of Groundwater Flow Patterns in Mountainous Topography: Implications for Valley Bottom Water Replenishment and for Defining Groundwater Flow Boundaries. Water Resources Research, 48.
[12] Burness, S., Chermak, J. and Brookshire, D. (2004) Water Management in a Mountain Front Recharge Aquifer. Water Resources Research, 40.
[13] Hashimoto, A., Oguchi, T., Hayakawa, Y., Lin, Z., Saito, K. and Wasklewicz, T.A. (2008) GIS Analysis of Depositional Slope Change at Alluvial-Fan Toes in Japan and the American Southwest. Geomorphology, 100, 120-130.
[14] Strudley, M.W. and Murray, A.B. (2007) Sensitivity Analysis of Pediment Development through Numerical Simulation and Selected Geospatial Query. Geomorphology, 88, 329-351.
[15] Volker, H.X., Wasklewicz, T.A. and Ellis, M.A. (2007) A Topographic Fingerprint to Distinguish Alluvial Fan Formative Processes. Geomorphology, 88, 34-45.
[16] Wilson, J.L. and Guan, H. (2004) Mountain-Block Hydrology and Mountain-Front Recharge. In: Hogan, J.F., Phillips, F.M. and Scanlon, B.R., Eds., Groundwater Recharge in a Desert Environment: The Southwestern United States, American Geophysical Union, Washington DC, 294.
[17] Bedrossian, T.L., Roffers, P., Hayhurst, C.A., Lancaster, J.T. and Short, W.R. (2012) Geologic Compilation of Quaternary Surficial Deposits in Southern California (Special Report 217). Department of Conservation, California Geological Survey, Sacramento.
[18] Brown, D.G., Lusch, D.P. and Duda, K.A. (1998) Supervised Classification of Types of Glaciated Landscapes Using Digital Elevation Data. Geomorphology, 21, 233-250.
[19] Dragut, L. and Blaschke, T. (2006) Automated Classification of Landform Elements Using Object-Based Image Analysis. Geomorphology, 81, 330-344.
[20] Manis, G., Lowry, J. and Ramsey, D.R. (2001) Preclassification: An Ecologically Predictive Landform Model. US Geological Survey. GAP Analysis Bulletin, 10.
[21] Prima, O.D.A., Echigo, A., Yokoyama, R. and Yoshida, T. (2006) Supervised Landform Classification of Northeast Honshu from DEM-Derived Thematic Maps. Geomorphology, 78, 373-386.
[22] Saadat, H., Bonnell, R., Sharifi, F., Mehuys, G., Namdar, M. and Ale-Ebrahim, S. (2008) Landform Classification from a Digital Elevation Model and Satellite Imagery. Geomorphology, 100, 453-464.
[23] Singh, V. and Tandon, S.K. (2010) Integrated Analysis of Structures and Landforms of an Intermontane Longitudinal Valley (Pinjaur Dun) and Its Associated Mountain Fronts in the NW Himalaya. Geomorphology, 114, 573-589.
[24] Graf, W.L. and Geological Society of America (1987) Geomorphic Systems of North America. Geological Society of America, Boulder.
[25] Wiken, E., Nava, F.J. and Griffith, G. (2011) North American Terrestrial Ecoregions—Level III. Commission for Environmental Cooperation, Montreal.
[26] US Geological Survey (2012) National Elevation Dataset.
[27] Lennartz, S., et al. (2008) Final Report on Land Cover Mapping Methods for California Map Zones 3, 4, 5, 6, 12, and 13. 30 p.
[28] Lowry Jr., J.H., Ramsey, R.D., Boykin, K., Bradford, D., Comer, P., Falzarano, S. and Wolk, B. (2005) The Southwest Regional Gap Analysis Project Final Report on Land Cover Mapping Methods. Utah State University, Logan.
[29] Tou, J.T. and Gonzalez, R.C. (1974) Pattern Recognition Principles. Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 377 p.
[30] Soller, D.R., Reheis, M.C., Garrity, C.P. and Van Sistine, D.R. (2009) Map Database for Surficial Materials in the Conterminous United States. Data Series, US Geological Survey, Reston.
[31] US Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service (2012) State Soil Survey Geographic Database.
[32] Dohrenwend, J.C. and Parsons, A.J. (2009) Pediments in Arid Environments. In: Abrahams, A.D. and Parsons, A.J., Eds., Geomorphology of Desert Environments, 2nd Edition, Springer, New York, 377-411.
[33] Peterson, F.F. (1981) Landforms of the Basin and Range Province Defined for Soil Survey. Technical Bulletin 28, Nevada Agricultural Experiment Station, Max C. Fleischmann College of Agriculture, University of Nevada Reno, Reno, 56.
[34] Blissenbach, E. (1954) Geology of Alluvial Fans in Semiarid Regions. Geological Society of America Bulletin, 65, 175.[175:GOAFIS]2.0.CO;2
[35] Nolan, B.T., Baehr, A.L. and Kauffman, L.J. (2003) Spatial Variability of Groundwater Recharge and Its Effect on Shallow Groundwater Quality in Southern New Jersey. Vadose Zone Journal, 2, 677-691.
[36] Thompson, S.E., Harman, C.J., Heine, P. and Katul, G.G. (2010) Vegetation-Infiltration Relationships across Climatic and Soil Type Gradients. Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences, 115.
[37] Havstad, K.M., Peters, D.P.C., Skaggs, R., Brown, J., Bestelmeyer, B., Fredrickson, E. and Wright, J. (2007) Ecological Services to and from Rangelands of the United States. Ecological Economics, 64, 261-268.
[38] Western Regional Climate Center (2012) Western U.S. Climate Historical Summaries, Climatological Data Summaries (LCD), Selected Stations.

Copyright © 2023 by authors and Scientific Research Publishing Inc.

Creative Commons License

This work and the related PDF file are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.