In Reply Refer To:        November 16, 2004 
Mail Stop 411


Subject: Guidance for Determining the U.S. Geological Survey Role in Artificial Recharge Studies

This memorandum presents general guidance for defining the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) role in artificial recharge studies. Artificial recharge refers to the augmentation of natural infiltration into ground-water systems by means of spreading basins, recharge wells, or induced infiltration of surface water. Artificial recharge can be used to (1) provide temporary subsurface storage of local or imported surface water or reclaimed wastewater for later reuse, (2) remedy adverse effects of ground-water development, such as the lowering of ground-water levels, subsidence, and saltwater intrusion, and (3) extract energy in the form of hot or cold water.

As the Nation's population grows and the water needs of the Nation increase, artificial recharge is becoming an important component of water management in many locations. A growing interest in artificial recharge presents engineering issues related to the design of specific systems most appropriately addressed by the private sector, as well as scientific issues that are relevant to the USGS mission. It is important that the scientific basis and the cause and effect relations involved in artificially augmenting the ground-water resource are fully understood. The importance of this issue was highlighted in a review of USGS regional and national ground-water investigations by the National Research Council (2000), which emphasized aquifer storage and recovery as one of seven high priority issues.

The USGS recognizes that compared to the resources and effort expended by other agencies and the private sector on artificial recharge, our involvement is relatively modest. It is important to concentrate our efforts on work that is most beneficial to State and local agencies who are responsible for managing water resources. We also want to be sure that the work that we do is not in conflict with work more appropriately done by the private sector.

The USGS has had an important role in developing the scientific basis of artificial recharge for about 100 years. For example, C.S. Slichter evaluated the enhanced flow of ground water due to human-made impoundments on Long Island in 1906 (Veatch and others, 1906, p. 106-112). Research by the USGS on artificial recharge continued in various locations, and in 1959 and 1970 the USGS produced annotated bibliographies that summarized much of the work in the scientific literature that existed at that time (Todd, 1959; Signor and others, 1970). The USGS undertook a program of benchmark studies in the late 1960s and 1970s that focused on processes that would control the recharge of water in agricultural areas of the southern High Plains (Brown and others, 1978), as well as deep-well recharge in urban coastal areas to control saltwater intrusion (Vecchioli and Ku, 1972). Recent USGS studies have focused on scientific issues related to aquifer storage and recovery and bank filtration (Galloway and others, 2003). An overview of recent USGS research is presented in the proceedings of a workshop on artificial recharge (Aiken and Kuniansky, 2002).

All artificial recharge studies undertaken by the USGS must be able to demonstrate that there is an appropriate role for the USGS. Regional ground-water assessments that provide a framework for management agencies in developing specific artificial recharge applications are within the purview of USGS provided they follow the overall guidelines described in Water Resources Discipline Policy Memorandum No. 04.01 that emphasize research, national database, and regional hydrologic characterization goals. Many studies of artificial recharge may be quite local in geographic scope, however. These studies must have a clearly stated research goal or scientifically-based long-term monitoring goal.

The following are examples of research needs that the USGS considers appropriate for our involvement:

Studies conducted by the USGS emphasize scientific analysis of the physical, biological, and chemical processes and do not directly involve any engineering design, construction, or water management. Design of operating systems is done by the private sector. USGS studies may contribute to the design considerations made by others but only as an indirect by-product of the scientific studies. It is useful, however, for there to be close collaboration between USGS staff working on these research questions and the private-sector engineers who are designing, testing, and operating artificial recharge systems. Such relationships can enhance the relevance and efficiency of the USGS studies.

In summary, the motivation and purpose of current and future studies is to provide insight into the many scientific issues that affect the feasibility, effectiveness, and consequences of artificial recharge. The USGS continues to develop the basic scientific understanding of issues that include the effects of mixing water of different chemical composition with ambient ground water, aquifer clogging/dissolution, viral inactivation, production and degradation of disinfection by-products, fate of pesticides and other organic compounds, integrity of regional confining layers, and movement of injected water by advection and buoyancy stratification. Only through continued scientific investigation can some of these important issues be clarified in order to allow water managers to fully understand and manage their water supplies and to utilize artificial recharge to its full potential. The USGS has a long history of research on topics that are crucial to the planning and evaluation of emerging water-resource technologies. The rapidly growing field of artificial recharge technology should continue to be a topical area in which USGS scientific contributions support the wise management of the Nation's water resources.


Aiken, G.R., and Kuniansky, E.L. (Eds.), 2002, U.S. Geological Survey Artificial Recharge Workshop Proceedings, Sacramento, California, April 2-4, 2002: U. S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 02-89, 85 p. Available on the World Wide Web at

Brown, R.F., Signor, D.C., and Wood, W.W., 1978, Artificial ground-water recharge as a water-management technique on the Southern High Plains of Texas and New Mexico: Texas Department of Water Resources Report 220, 31 p.

Galloway, D.L., Alley, W.M., Barlow, P.M., Reilly, T.E., and Tucci, P., 2003, Evolving issues and practices in managing ground-water resources: Case studies on the role of science: U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1247, 73 p.

National Research Council, 2000, Investigating groundwater systems on regional and national scales: National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 143 p.

Signor, D.C., Growitz, D.J., and Kam, William, 1970, Annotated bibliography on artificial recharge of ground water, 1955-67: U. S. Geological Survey Water-Supply Paper 1990, 141 p.

Todd, David K., 1959, Annotated bibliography on artificial recharge of ground water through 1954: U. S. Geological Survey Water-Supply Paper 1477, 115 p.

Veatch, A.C., Slichter, C.S., Bowman, I., Crosby, W.O., and Horton, R.E., 1906, Underground water resources of Long Island, New York: U. S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 44, 385 p.

Vecchioli, John, and Ku, Henry F.H., 1972, Preliminary results of injecting highly treated sewage-plant effluent into a deep sand aquifer at Bay Park, New York: U. S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 751-A, 14 p.

William M. Alley
Chief, Office of Ground Water

Distribution: A, B, DC, OGW Staff All, District and Regional Ground-Water Specialists