Recharge of alluvial aquifers is a key component in understanding the interaction between floodplain vadose zone biogeochemistry and groundwater quality. The Rifle Site (a former U-mill tailings site) adjacent to the Colorado River is a well-established field laboratory that has been used for over a decade for the study of biogeochemical processes in the vadose zone and aquifer. This site is considered an exemplar of both a riparian floodplain in a semiarid region and a post-remediation U-tailings site. In this paper we present Sr isotopic data for groundwater and vadose zone porewater samples collected in May and July 2013 to build a mixing model for the fractional contribution of vadose zone porewater (i.e. recharge) to the aquifer and its variation across the site. The vadose zone porewater contribution to the aquifer ranged systematically from 0% to 38% and appears to be controlled largely by the microtopography of the site. The area-weighted average contribution across the site was 8% corresponding to a net recharge of 7.5 cm. Given a groundwater transport time across the site of ~1.5 to 3 years, this translates to a recharge rate between 5 and 2.5 cm/yr, and with the average precipitation to the site implies a loss from the vadose zone due to evapotranspiration of 83% to 92%, both ranges are in good agreement with previously published results by independent methods. A uranium isotopic (234U/238U activity ratios) mixing model for groundwater and surface water samples indicates that a ditch across the site is hydraulically connected to the aquifer and locally significantly affects groundwater. Groundwater samples with high U concentrations attributed to natural bio-reduced zones have 234U/238U activity ratios near 1, suggesting that the U currently being released to the aquifer originated from the former U-mill tailings.
Keywords: (87)Sr/(86)Sr; Hydrology; Rifle colorado; Semiarid environment; Uranium isotopes; Vadose zone.
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