Tracing stream leakage towards an alluvial aquifer in a mountain basin using environmental isotopes

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Stream-aquifer relationships in mountain basins are of great relevance because they control the water balance and, with it, the amount of resources (whether surface water or ground water) available for ecological and human demands. In this paper, this relationship is studied using environmental isotopes (δ18O and δD) to identify the occurrence of stream recharge in the Arbúcies River basin (NE Spain). Isotopic data from 51 natural springs define the local altitudinal gradient. This function is weighted by the proportional area above each point, given by the hypsometric curve, in order to estimate the isotopic stream water content as the contribution of runoff from incremental elevations. Stream water isotopes from two surveys are compared with hypsometrically averaged isotopic values to check for the appropriateness of this approach. Results show that it is more suitable when subsurface flows from surface formations, such as alluvial deposits, are the main contributors to stream discharge than when it derives from a single rainfall event. The characterization of stream isotope values is used as a key factor in identifying stream leakage to an unconfined alluvial aquifer in the lower reach of the Arbúcies River ​
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