Streamflow Depletion by Wells

Streamflow Depletion by Wells—Understanding and Managing the Effects of Groundwater Pumping on Streamflow

By Paul M. Barlow and Stanley A. Leake


Report PDF (14.9 MB)

Groundwater is an important source of water for many human needs, including public supply, agriculture, and industry. With the development of any natural resource, however, adverse consequences may be associated with its use. One of the primary concerns related to the development of groundwater resources is the effect of groundwater pumping on streamflow. Groundwater and surface-water systems are connected, and groundwater discharge is often a substantial component of the total flow of a stream. Groundwater pumping reduces the amount of groundwater that flows to streams and, in some cases, can draw streamflow into the underlying groundwater system. Streamflow reductions (or depletions) caused by pumping have become an important water-resource management issue because of the negative impacts that reduced flows can have on aquatic ecosystems, the availability of surface water, and the quality and aesthetic value of streams and rivers.

Scientific research over the past seven decades has made important contributions to the basic understanding of the processes and factors that affect streamflow depletion by wells. Moreover, advances in methods for simulating groundwater systems with computer models provide powerful tools for estimating the rates, locations, and timing of streamflow depletion in response to groundwater pumping and for evaluating alternative approaches for managing streamflow depletion. The primary objective of this report is to summarize these scientific insights and to describe the various field methods and modeling approaches that can be used to understand and manage streamflow depletion. A secondary objective is to highlight several misconceptions concerning streamflow depletion and to explain why these misconceptions are incorrect.

First posted November 1, 2012

• Report PDF (14.9 MB)

For additional information contact:

Chief, Office of Groundwater
U.S. Geological Survey
Mail Stop 411
12201 Sunrise Valley Drive
Reston, VA 20192
Phone: (703) 648–5001

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Suggested citation:

Barlow, P.M., and Leake, S.A., 2012, Streamflow depletion by wells—Understanding and managing the effects of groundwater pumping on streamflow: U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1376, 84 p. (Also available at )


Characteristics of Groundwater Systems and Groundwater Interactions with Streamflow
Streamflow Response to Groundwater Pumping
Time Response of Streamflow Depletion During Pumping
Distribution of Streamflow Depletion Along Stream Reaches
Variable and Cyclic Pumping Effects
Multiple Wells and Basinwide Analyses
Pumped Wells and Recharge Wells
Streamflow Depletion and Water Quality
Common Misconceptions about Streamflow Depletion
Aquifer Recharge and Development of Water Resources
Depletion and the Rates and Directions of Groundwater Flow
Depletion after Pumping Stops
Effects of Confining Layers on Depletion
Approaches for Monitoring, Understanding, and Managing Streamflow Depletion by Wells
Field Techniques
Analytical and Numerical Modeling
Analytical Models of Streamflow Depletion by Wells
Numerical Models of Streamflow Depletion by Wells
Response Functions and Capture Maps
Management of Streamflow Depletion
References Cited