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Data from: Anthropogenic Basin Closure and Groundwater Salinization (ABCSAL)

Cite this dataset

Pauloo, Richard (2020). Data from: Anthropogenic Basin Closure and Groundwater Salinization (ABCSAL) [Dataset]. Dryad.


Global food systems rely on irrigated agriculture, and most of these systems in turn depend on fresh sources of groundwater. In this study, we demonstrate that groundwater development, even without overdraft, can transform a fresh, open basin into an evaporation dominated, closed-basin system, such that most of the groundwater, rather than exiting via stream baseflow and lateral subsurface flow, exits predominantly by evapotranspiration from irrigated lands. In these newly closed hydrologic basins, just as in other closed basins, groundwater salinization is inevitable because dissolved solids cannot escape, and the basin is effectively converted into a salt sink. We first provide a conceptual model of this process, called "Anthropogenic Basin Closure and groundwater SALinization" (ABCSAL). We then examine the temporal dynamics of ABCSAL using the Tulare Lake Basin, California, as a case study for a large irrigated agricultural region with Mediterranean climate, overlying an unconsolidated sedimentary aquifer system. Even with modern water management practices that arrest historic overdraft, results indicate that shallow aquifers (36 m deep) exceed maximum contaminant levels for total dissolved solids on decadal timescales. Intermediate (132 m) and deep aquifers (187 m), essential for drinking water and irrigated crops, are impacted within two to three centuries. Hence, ABCSAL resulting from groundwater development in agricultural regions worldwide constitutes a largely unrecognized constraint on groundwater sustainable yield on similar timescales to aquifer depletion, and poses a serious challenge to global groundwater quality sustainability, even where water levels are stable.