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Hydrology of the Douglas Basin

Groundwater Hydrology

Southern Portion

Groundwater from three basins in the southern portion of the planning area flows south into Mexico. These basins are the Douglas and San Bernardino Valley basins in the southeastern part of the planning area and the San Rafael Basin in the southwest corner.

Douglas Basin

The Douglas Basin occupies the southern portion of a northwest-southeast trending structural trough that extends from the central part of the Aravaipa Canyon Basin, through the Willcox Basin, to the northeastern part of Sonora, Mexico.  The long alluvial valley in the Douglas Basin, (the southern part of the Sulphur Springs Valley), contains its main aquifer, basin fill, which supplies most of its large-capacity wells.  The basin fill is composed of sand and gravel lenses interbedded with silt and clay lenses. The sand and gravel lenses are the main source of groundwater. Groundwater is primarily unconfined although artesian conditions were reported locally in the upper alluvial deposits in the early 1950s prior to the start of heavy groundwater pumping (Rascona, 1993). Groundwater is also found in the mountain bedrock which provides relatively small amounts of water for stock and domestic use. In and adjacent to the City of Douglas, groundwater is pumped from basin fill with interbedded volcanic rock.  Groundwater flow is generally from north to south although agricultural pumpage has altered flow directions in the vicinity of Elfrida where a cone of depression has developed.

Groundwater recharge occurs mainly in washes and along mountain fronts (Rascona, 1993) and is estimated at 15,500 to 22,000 AFA (Table 3.5-5). Incidental recharge may also come from infiltration of agricultural irrigation (USGS, 2006b).  Groundwater discharge is primarily from groundwater pumping of almost 53,000 AFA. Groundwater in storage estimates range from 26 to 32 maf.  The basin has been severely over-drafted since the late 1940s and much of the basin was designated as an Irrigation Non-Expansion Area in 1980 to restrict agricultural expansion. Concerns about the future availability of water in the basin is a subject of an investigation to compile hydrologic data and information (USGS, 2006b). Between 1990-91 and 2003-04, water levels declined in most wells measured in the basin, particularly in the Elfrida area and north of Douglas (Figure 3.5-6). Groundwater quality is generally suitable for most uses although elevated fluoride concentrations have been measured in a number of wells (Table 3.5-5).


Click to view Table 3.5-5

Click for Table 3.5-5 Groundwater Data for the Douglas Basin

Click to view Figure 3.5-6

Click for Figure 3.5-6 Douglas Basin Groundwater Conditions

Click to view Figure 3.0-5

Click to view Figure 3.0-5 USGS 6-Digit Hydrologic Unit Code Boundaries in the Southeastern Arizona Planning Area

Surface Water Hydrology

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) divides and subdivides the United States into successively smaller hydrologic units based on hydrologic features.  These units are classified into four levels. From largest to smallest these are: regions, subregions, accounting units and cataloging units.  A hydrologic unit code (HUC) consisting of two digits for each level in the system is used to identify any hydrologic area (Seaber et al., 1987).  A 6-digit code corresponds to accounting units, which are used by the USGS for designing and managing the National Water Data Network.  There are portions of five watersheds in the planning area at the accounting unit level: Lower Colorado River below Lake Mead; Middle Gila River; Rio Bavispe; San Pedro River; Santa Cruz River; and the Upper Gila River (Figure 3.0-5). 

Rio de Bavispe

The Rio de Bavispe Watershed drains south and extends into New Mexico and Mexico. Major drainages in Arizona are Whitewater Draw and Black Draw, which are tributary to the Rio de Bavispe in Mexico. The Rio de Bavispe joins the Rio Yaqui which discharges into the Gulf of California. The watershed includes most of the Douglas Basin, the southernmost portion of the Willcox Basin, and the entire San Bernardino Valley Basin. Whitewater Draw is the major drainage in the Douglas Basin. Black Draw is the main surface water drainage in the San Bernardino Valley Basin and becomes perennial just north of the international boundary.  In this basin, artesian wells and springs support wetlands near the border. In addition to Black Draw, perennial streams in the watershed include reaches of Rucker Canyon in the Willcox Basin, and Leslie Creek in the Douglas and Willcox basins  (see Figures 3.5-5 and 3.14-5).

There are two active streamgages in the watershed. The gage at Whitewater Draw near Douglas recorded a maximum annual flow of approximately 22,300 acre-feet in 1955 with a median annual flow of 5,960 acre-feet. The other operating gage is on Leslie Creek near McNeal with a median annual flow of approximately 750 acre-feet. There are no major springs in the watershed.



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Old town Bisbee Alfalfa field outside Elfrida