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Groundwater, surface-water, and water-chemistry data, Black Mesa area, northeastern Arizona—2019–2021

June 14, 2024

The Navajo (N) aquifer is an extensive aquifer and the primary source of groundwater in the 5,400-square-mile Black Mesa area in northeastern Arizona. Water availability is an important issue in the Black Mesa area because of the arid climate, past industrial water use, and continued water requirements for municipal use by a growing population. Precipitation in the area typically ranges from less than 6 to more than 16 inches per year, depending on location.

The U.S. Geological Survey water-monitoring program in the Black Mesa area began in 1971 and provides information about the long-term effects of groundwater withdrawals from the N aquifer for industrial and municipal uses. This report presents the results of data collected as part of the monitoring program in the Black Mesa area from calendar years 2020–2021 and, additionally, uses streamflow statistics from November and December 2019. The monitoring program includes measurements of (1) groundwater withdrawals (pumping), (2) groundwater levels, (3) spring discharge, (4) surface-water discharge, and (5) groundwater chemistry.

In calendar year 2020, total groundwater withdrawals were estimated to be 2,680 acre-feet (acre-ft), and, in 2021, total withdrawals were estimated to be 2,570 acre-ft. Total withdrawals during 2021 were about 65 percent less than total withdrawals in 2005 because the Peabody Western Coal Company discontinued its use of water to transport coal in a coal slurry pipeline after 2005 and ceased mining operations in 2019.

Owing to Navajo Nation and Hopi Reservation access restrictions during the Coronavirus pandemic, water levels were not collected from municipal wells in 2020 or 2021. Water levels measured in 2021 from wells completed in the unconfined areas of the N aquifer within the Black Mesa area showed a decline in 7 of 13 wells when compared with water levels from the prestress period (prior to 1965). The changes in water levels across all 13 wells ranged from +8.4 feet (ft) to −42.4 ft, and the median change was −0.4 ft. Water levels also showed decline in 11 of 12 wells measured in the confined area of the aquifer when compared to the prestress period. The median change for the confined area of the aquifer was −25.9 ft, with changes across all 12 wells ranging from +17.3 ft to −133.7 ft.

Spring flow was measured at four springs between 2020 and 2021. Flow fluctuated during the period of record for Burro Spring and Pasture Canyon Spring, but a decreasing trend was statistically significant (p<0.05) at Moenkopi School Spring and Unnamed Spring near Dennehotso, Arizona. Discharge at Burro Spring has remained relatively constant since it was first measured in the 1980s, and discharge at Pasture Canyon Spring has fluctuated for the period of record.

Continuous records of surface-water discharge in the Black Mesa area were collected from streamflow-gaging stations at the following sites: Moenkopi Wash at Moenkopi 09401260 (1976–2021), Dinnebito Wash near Sand Springs 09401110 (1993–2020), Polacca Wash near Second Mesa 09400568 (1994–2020), and Pasture Canyon Springs 09401265 (2004–2021). Median winter flows (November through February) of each winter were used as an estimate of the amount of groundwater discharge at the above-named sites. For the period of record, the median winter flows have generally remained constant at Polacca Wash and Pasture Canyon Springs, whereas a decreasing trend was observed at Moenkopi Wash and Dinnebito Wash.

In 2020 and 2021, water samples were collected from a total of four springs in the Black Mesa area and analyzed for selected chemical constituents. Results from the four springs were compared with previous analyses from the same springs. Dissolved solids, chloride, and sulfate concentrations increased at Moenkopi School Spring during the more than 30 years of record at that site. Concentrations of dissolved solids and sulfate at Pasture Canyon Spring have not varied significantly (p>0.05) since the early 1980s, and there is no increasing or decreasing trend in those data. However, concentrations of chloride from Pasture Canyon Spring show a diminishing trend. Concentrations of dissolved solids, chloride, and sulfate at Unnamed Spring near Dennehotso have varied for the period of record, but there is no statistical trend in the data. Concentrations of dissolved solids at Burro Spring have varied for the period of record, but there is no statistical trend in the data. However, concentrations of chloride and sulfate from Burro Spring show a trend towards lower concentrations.

Publication Year 2024
Title Groundwater, surface-water, and water-chemistry data, Black Mesa area, northeastern Arizona—2019–2021
DOI 10.3133/ofr20241019
Authors Jon P. Mason
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Open-File Report
Series Number 2024-1019
Index ID ofr20241019
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Arizona Water Science Center