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Evaluation of groundwater sustainability based on groundwater age simulation in the Zhangye Basin of Heihe River watershed, northwestern China

Abstract

Water resources, as the primary limiting factor, constrain the economic and social development in arid inland areas. The Zhangye Basin is a representative area of inland river basins, which is located in the middle parts of the Heihe River watershed, northwestern China. Facing with the huge water shortage, people exploited groundwater at a large scale in recent years. The reducing recharge from surface water and over-exploitation of groundwater led to the decline of groundwater levels and threatened the sustainability of water resources. This study constructed a conceptual and numerical groundwater flow model and calibrated the model based on the observed wells. A solute transport model was built using MT3DMS to calculate the groundwater age distribution in the Zhangye Basin. The simulated result shows that the youngest groundwater is distributed near the most upstream areas in the model domain, which is less than 1,000 a, older groundwater is distributed in deeper parts of the aquifer and near the discharge outlets, ranging from 6,000 a to over 20,000 a. Spatial variation of groundwater ages in the middle area indicates the recharge diversity between unconfined and confined aquifer. Groundwater age can serve as an indicator to evaluate groundwater’s renewal capacity and sustainability. The formation of groundwater resources in the lower stream area would spend 10,000 a or even more than 20,000 a, so exploitation of groundwater in these areas should be restrained.

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Correspondence to Heng Wei.

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Wei, H., Xiao, H., Yin, Z. et al. Evaluation of groundwater sustainability based on groundwater age simulation in the Zhangye Basin of Heihe River watershed, northwestern China. J. Arid Land 6, 264–272 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40333-013-0210-y

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s40333-013-0210-y

Keywords

  • groundwater flow
  • groundwater age
  • numerical modeling
  • water resource sustainability