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Effects of groundwater withdrawals from the Hurricane Fault zone on discharge of saline water from Pah Tempe Springs, Washington County, Utah

April 10, 2018
Pah Tempe Springs, located in Washington County, Utah, contribute about 95,000 tons of dissolved solids annually along a 1,500-foot gaining reach of the Virgin River. The river gains more than 10 cubic feet per second along the reach as thermal, saline springwater discharges from dozens of orifices located along the riverbed and above the river on both banks. The spring complex discharges from fractured Permian Toroweap Limestone where the river crosses the north-south trending Hurricane Fault. The Bureau of Reclamation Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Program is evaluating the feasibility of capturing and desalinizing the discharge of Pah Tempe Springs to improve downstream water quality in the Virgin River. The most viable plan, identified by the Bureau of Reclamation in early studies, is to capture spring discharge by pumping thermal groundwater from within the Hurricane Fault footwall damage zone and to treat this water prior to returning it to the river.

Three multiple-day interference tests were conducted between November 2013 and November 2014, wherein thermal groundwater was pumped from fractured carbonate rock in the fault damage zone at rates of up to 7 cubic feet per second. Pumping periods for these tests lasted approximately 66, 74, and 67 hours, respectively, and the tests occurred with controlled streamflows of approximately 2.0, 3.5, and 24.5 cubic feet per second, respectively, in the Virgin River upstream from the springs reach. Specific conductance, water temperature, and discharge were monitored continuously in the river (upstream and downstream of the springs reach) at selected individual springs, and in the pumping discharge during each of the tests. Water levels were monitored in three observation wells screened in the thermal system. Periodic stream and groundwater samples were analyzed for dissolved-solids concentration and the stable isotopes of oxygen and hydrogen. Additional discrete measurements of field parameters (specific conductance, water temperature, pH, and discharge) were made at up to 26 sites along the springs reach. These data demonstrate the interaction between the saline, thermal groundwater system and the Virgin River, and provide estimates of reductions in dissolved-solids loads to the river.

The interference tests show that pumping thermal groundwater from the shallow carbonate aquifer adjacent to the springs is effective at capturing high dissolved-solids loads discharging from Pah Tempe Springs before they enter the Virgin River. Discharge measurements made in the Virgin River downstream of the springs reach show that streamflow is reduced by approximately the amount pumped, indicating that complete capture of thermal discharge is possible. During the February 2014 test, the dissolved-solids load removed by pumping (190 tons per day) was approximately equal to the dissolved-solids load reduction observed in the river below the springs reach, indicating near 100-percent efficient capture of spring-sourced dissolved solids. However, an observed decrease in temperature and specific conductance of the pumping discharge during the high-flow test in November 2014 showed that capture of the cool, fresh river water can occur and is more likely at a higher stage in the Virgin River.

Publication Year 2018
Title Effects of groundwater withdrawals from the Hurricane Fault zone on discharge of saline water from Pah Tempe Springs, Washington County, Utah
DOI 10.3133/sir20185040
Authors Philip M. Gardner
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2018-5040
Index ID sir20185040
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Utah Water Science Center