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Evaluation of groundwater resources in the Spanish Valley Watershed, Grand and San Juan Counties, Utah

August 16, 2019

Groundwater resources in the Spanish Valley watershed in southern Utah were quantified for the first time since the early 1970s. The primary objectives of this study were (1) to better understand sources of recharge to, groundwater flow directions within, and discharge points for both the valley-fill and Glen Canyon Group aquifers (VFA and GCGA), and (2) to quantify groundwater budget components of the combined VFA and GCGA, including both recharge and discharge. Based on both groundwater chemistry (stable isotopes, major ions, and noble gases) and environmental tracers in vadose-zone pore water of the Navajo Sandstone outcrop along Sand Flats Road, most recharge to the GCGA occurs high in the La Sal Mountains, and not on the sandstone outcrop area. The same groundwater chemistry and environmental tracer evidence from the saturated zone indicates that Pack Creek, rather than GCGA groundwater, is the primary source of recharge to the VFA. Groundwater recharge in the study area occurs mostly from infiltration of precipitation (in the form of snowmelt) at high altitudes. Additional recharge occurs from the infiltration of runoff along losing reaches of stream channels, or as unconsumed surface-water and groundwater irrigation. Average annual recharge to the Moab-Spanish Valley watershed part of the Spanish Valley study area was estimated to be between 9,550 and 30,000 acre-feet. Based on water-levels collected in the current study, groundwater in both the GCGA and the VFA generally moves downgradient parallel to the topographic slope of the watershed towards the Colorado River. Groundwater discharge measurements, and hydraulic-flux estimates at the lower end of Spanish Valley, provide a more robust estimate of the groundwater budget than evaluating recharge. The primary base-flow discharge components in the study area include groundwater discharge to gaining reaches of streams, groundwater discharge to springs, and well withdrawals. Based on 3 years of measurements (2014–16) and hydraulic-flux calculations at the lower end of Spanish Valley, total groundwater discharge was estimated to be 14,000 to 16,000 acre-feet per year (acre-ft/yr) for the entire watershed, or 13,000 to 15,000 acre-ft/yr, excluding the watershed areas of Grandstaff (formerly Negro Bill) and Ice Box Canyons (compared to the 1971 Sumsion estimate of 22,000 acre-ft/yr). The primary difference is this study’s estimate of subsurface outflow to the Colorado River of only 300 to 1,000 acre-ft/yr, compared to 11,000 acre-ft/yr estimated by Sumsion. Because the study period (2014–16) experienced above average precipitation for 2 of the 3 years, the discharge estimates may be slightly higher than long-term average annual discharge from the groundwater system.