Aridland Water Harvesting Study


Managed Aquifer Recharge

Research TeamResearchers involved in Babocomari

Figure 1. Photograph of partners a.) designing the study, from left to right: Ron Pulliam (BR), Valer Austin (CLO), Miguel Villarreal (USGS), Anya Schoolman (WFF), Laura Norman (USGS), and David Seibert (BR; 1/29/13) and b.) monitoring structues, from left to right back: Natalie Wilson (USGS), Chloe Fandel (UA), and Bethany Brandt (BR) and front, Laura Norman (USGS).

We are working to investigate the most cost-efficient way to recharge the Sierra Vista sub-basin aquifer using rainwater harvesting in the tributaries of the San Pedro River using low-technology methods. Research is being conducted on the Babacomari Ranch, property of the Brophy family. The Walton Family Foundation (WFF) is supporting our research with partners, Borderlands Restoration (BR), Cuenca los Ojos (CLO), and Lacher Hydrological Consulting, to couple models to predict and closely monitor the impact of water harvesting structures on groundwater recharge (Fig. 1).

The USGS study proposes a methodology to delineate artificial recharge zones as well as to identify favorable artificial recharge sites using integrated remote sensing (RS), geographical information system (GIS) and multi-criteria decision making techniques for augmenting groundwater resources.  We used the Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) to model the watershed (Arnold et al. 1998). Model outputs are estimates of the local water budget (storage, stream flow, runoff, infiltration, interception, and evapotranspiration) that allow us to understand geospatially, where the best location to install RDS is (Figure 2; arrows represent hot spot areas). We will also simulate them using detention ponds protocol in the software to simulate loads, etc. (Waidler et al. 2011). 

SWAT Model Map

Figure 2. Maps describing preliminary SWAT model results for the watershed (Norman 2013).

We have surveyed channels using Real Time Kinematic (RTK) Global Positioning System (GPS) and a terrestrial laser scanner where rock detention structures are being installed (Fig. 3) to develop accurate baseline conditions for monitoring change.

LiDAR survey of a gabion

Figure 3. LiDAR survey of a gabion (surveyed by Brandon Forbes, USGS).

FY15-16 Chloe Fandel’s M.S. Thesis project

  • Instrument new gabion w/ temperature sensors and wildlife cameras
  • Using HYDRUS 1D software, model downward h2o movement through soil to calculate infiltration volumes…

Estimated 1 gabion increased by 60 to 380% upstream of structure & 5 gabions over a 1.5 km length of channel would increase infiltration volume by 2 to 13% (Fig. 4)

Clhoe Fandel

dam diagram

Figure 4. Chloe Fandel’s Master Thesis

The map (Fig. 5) portrays where the USGS is monitoring related to structures installed at Vaughn Canyon. Data points describe both the structure installed by BR and the vegetation plots, EM transects, temperature ibuttons, and most recently, terrestrial-lidar collected by the USGS (Natalie Wilson, James Callegary, Fletcher Brinkerhoff, and Brandon Forbes) and our recent MS graduate from the UA (Chloe Fandel).

Restoration Map

Figure 5. Location map.

We now have some data from which we can extract impacts of structures on vegetation, soil-moisture/recharge, sedimentation, and streamflow. This will be used to calibrate our watershed model, and used to extrapolate (with confidence) throughout the watershed to identify areas where structures could make bigger impacts in the future and the overall impact restoration could have for increasing recharge.

In the meantime, our partners are putting in new structures (these are post weirs) for us to consider (Fig. 5)

Restoration Map

Figure 5. Post weirs installed by BR, with Laura Norman, Natalie Wilson, and James Callegary (USGS) in the field.

Point of contact: Laura M. Norman, Ph.D. (520-670-5510)

Research Briefs

Babocomari Ranch Restoration and Recharge (2014 SIRC Research Brief)

Documenting Restoration-based Infiltration at Babocomari Ranch (2015 SIRC Research Brief)


Norman, Laura M. (2013). Surface Water Rainfall-Runoff Modeling at the Babacomari Watershed, SE Arizona, with applications in GIS and RS. Report submitted to Walton Family Foundation.

Norman, L. M., Lacher, L., Seibert, D., Pulliam, H. R., Hare, T., Austin, V., … Callegary, J. B. (2014, June). Delineation and Screening of recharge sites for installation of rock detention structures in the Babocomari River, a tributary of the San Pedro River. Presented at the Science on the Sonoita Plain, Appleton-Whittell Research Ranch. Elgin, AZ.

Norman, Laura M. (2016) Aridland Water Harvesting Research of the Babocomari Ranch restoration, Southeast Arizona Citizens’ Forum (SACF), University of Arizona South, Sierra Vista. 

Fandel, C., Callegary, J. B., Ferré, T. P. A., Norman, L. M., & Scott, C. A. (2015, November). Evaluating the effect of gabions on vertical water flux in an ephemeral stream using wildlife cameras and temperature sensors. Presented at the 2015 Annual Conference of Society for Ecological Restoration - Southwest Chapter, Tucson, Ariz. Retrieved from

Fandel, C., Callegary, J. B., Ferré, T. P. A., Norman, L. M., & Scott, C. A. (2016, March). Infiltration in ephemeral streams: Quantifying the effect of gabions on vertical water flux using wildlife cameras & temperature sensors. Presented at the Water Resources Research Center Annual Conference, “#AZwaterfuture: Tech, Talk, and Tradeoffs,” University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ.

Wilson, N. R., Norman, L. M., Campbell, C., Conn, J., Buckley, S., Tirion, K., & Seibert, D. (2016, November). Vegetation Response to Watershed Restoration in Southeastern Arizona. Presented at the 2016 Annual Conference of the Society of Ecological Restoration – Southwest Chapter, Las Vegas, NV. Retrieved from

Wilson, N. R., Norman, L. M., Villarreal, M. L., Buckley, S., Sankey, J. B., Dean, D., … Pulliam, H. R. (2015, November). Developing Monitoring Protocol for Vegetation Response to Watershed Restoration; Preliminary Results from Southeastern Arizona. Presented at the 2015 Annual Conference of Society for Ecological Restoration - Southwest Chapter, Tucson, Ariz. Retrieved from

Works Cited

Arnold, J. G., Srinivasan, R., Muttiah, R. S., & Williams, J. R. (1998). Large Area Hydrologic Modeling and Assessment Part I: Model Development1. JAWRA Journal of the American Water Resources Association34(1), 73–89. doi:10.1111/j.1752-1688.1998.tb05961.x

Waidler, D., White, M., Steglich, E., Wang, S., Williams, J., Jones, C. A., & Srinivasan, R. (2011). Conservation practice modeling guide for SWAT and APEX. Texas Water Resources Institute Technical Report, (399), 71.

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