A low-salinity (total dissolved solids, TDS, <5000 mg/L) groundwater lens underlies the Murray River in the Colignan-Nyah region of northern Victoria, Australia. Hydraulic heads, surface water elevations, δ18O values, major ion geochemistry, 14C activities, and 3H concentrations show that the lens is recharged from the Murray River largely through the riverbank with limited recharge through the floodplain. Recharge of the lens occurs mainly at high river levels and the low-salinity groundwater forms baseflow to some river reaches during times of low river levels. Within the lens, flow through the shallow Channel Sands and deeper Parilla Sands aquifers is sub-horizontal. While the Blanchetown Clay locally separates the Channel Sands and the Parilla Sands, the occurrence of recently recharged low-salinity groundwater below the Blanchetown Clay suggests that there is considerable leakage through this unit, implying that it is not an efficient aquitard. The lateral margin of the lens with the regional groundwater (TDS >25,000 mg/L) is marked by a hectometer to kilometer scale transition in TDS concentrations that is not stratigraphically controlled. Rather this boundary represents a mixing zone with the regional groundwater, the position of which is controlled by the rate of recharge from the river. The lens is part of an active and dynamic hydrogeological system that responds over years to decades to changes in river levels. The lens has shrunk during the drought of the late 1990s to the mid 2000s, and it will continue to shrink unless regular high flows in the Murray River are re-established. Over longer timescales, the rise of the regional water table due to land clearing will increase the hydraulic gradient between the regional groundwater and the groundwater in the lens, which will also cause it to degrade. Replacement of low-salinity groundwater in the lens with saline groundwater will ultimately increase the salinity of the Murray River reducing its utility for water supply and impacting riverine ecosystems.
- Environmental isotopes
- Surface water