To enable sustainable management of groundwater resources, knowledge of dominant hydrogeological processes is fundamental. In this study, stable isotopes of water [δ18O and δD] and major inorganic ions were used to investigate recharge and groundwater flow processes in a catchment underlain by fractured and faulted hornblende-biotite-gneiss. Spatial and temporal geochemical distributions consistently showed Mg-Ca-HCO3 dominated water facies. Evaporation was established to be the main process affecting isotopic enrichment in the study area. Stable isotopic and geochemical data revealed that a combination of thin overburden soil of up to 30 mm thickness and presence of fractures seem to enable localized rapid preferential recharge processes of isotopically enriched rainwater in shallow groundwater around the ridge section. However, the thicker overburden soil (up to 3 m) along the valley seems to allow only isotopically depleted large rain events to recharge deeper groundwater. The isotopically enriched small rain events seem to be allowed to evaporate before recharging groundwater in areas with thicker overburden soils. It was further established that the valley section also receives regional lateral groundwater recharge from high altitude areas. Regional groundwater flow system in the northwest-southeast (NW-SE) direction was thus established with local flows confirmed around the ridge section. It was also revealed that Ntcheu Fault acts as a conduit of regional groundwater flow in the NW-SE direction. Inter-aquifer connectivity and surface water and groundwater interaction were construed around the ridge section and around B12 and R8, respectively. The rapid recharge and flow phenomena in this type of geological media make the resource susceptible to pollution and inter-annual climatic variabilities. It is prudent therefore to consider such information when implementing other developmental plans in the catchment.
Key words: Groundwater recharge, groundwater flow, fractures, geological fault, stable isotopes, geochemistry, hornblende-biotite-gneiss, Malawi.
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