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Estimating Evapotranspiration Using Chloride Mass Balance in a New Mexico Paired Basin Study 2009-2019

DOI: 10.4236/jwarp.2023.154007, PP. 115-129

Keywords: Evapotranspiration, Chloride Mass Balance, Paired Basins, Water Budgets, Horizontal Precipitation

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A paired basin study in the upper Santa Fe River watershed following forest thinning and prescribed burns successfully measured water budget components in a treated and an untreated (control) basin. The paired basin study was established to investigate questions that have arisen regarding changes in water yield from forest treatments. Precipitation, stream flow, soil moisture, and chloride concentrations in precipitation and stream flow were measured to quantify the water budget components. The results from eleven years of data collection and analysis have a high degree of confidence with respect to measuring the water budget components based on the mass balance of water and chloride. The differences in the geologic structure and topography between the two paired basins appeared to impact the water budgets more than the forest treatments, except during periods when winter precipitation and snowmelt represented a significant component of inflow. Although this paired basin study was not able to portray a simple relationship between forest thinning and water yield, the chloride concentration methodology used to estimate evapotranspiration (ET) was successful. These detailed observations of chloride deposition and transport characteristics may be relevant for other researchers working in forested basins with substantial ET. ET rates were estimated by examining the cycle of chloride entering and exiting each basin over six integration periods. ET was estimated to be about 90% to 94% of precipitation in the treated basin and 77% to 86% in the control basin. The higher ET in the treated basin both before and after forest treatments may be due to the much greater area of west-facing hillslopes in the treated basin, which receive warm afternoon sun, and the greater area of rock cover in the control basin. Variation in the chloride concentration of collected precipitation samples from different sites indicates that horizontal precipitation of chloride in the tree canopy is an important consideration when using the chloride mass balance approach to calculate water budget components.


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