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Geochemical assessment of groundwater in the Big Chino subbasin, Arizona, 2011–18

October 29, 2020

A geochemical characterization of groundwater in the Big Chino subbasin of Arizona was conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the City of Prescott, the Town of Prescott Valley, and the Salt River Project, to understand groundwater evolution through the study area and the source of water to springs along the gaining reach of the Verde River just downstream from its confluence with Granite Creek. Samples were collected between 2011 and 2018 in groundwater wells completed in basin-fill and carbonate aquifers and at selected springs, including two discrete springs discharging along the aforementioned stretch of the Verde River. Five newly installed monitoring wells completed in the carbonate aquifer were sampled in 2018. Water-quality results obtained from these samples include the first known geochemical data for carbonate groundwater beneath the basin-fill in the Big Chino subbasin downgradient from Walnut Creek near Paulden, Arizona, as well as other parts of the study area without previous data. Groundwater samples were collected and analyzed for major ions, arsenic, nutrients, stable isotopes of oxygen and hydrogen (δ18O and δ2H), strontium isotopes (87Sr/86Sr), carbon-14, isotopes of carbon (δ13C), and noble gases.

Significant differences in groundwater geochemistry between the basin-fill and carbonate aquifers were driven primarily by higher pH, tritium, and δ18O and δ2H in the basin-fill aquifer samples and higher specific conductance and higher concentrations of calcium, sodium, bicarbonate, fluoride, and arsenic in the carbonate aquifer samples. All but one sample from the carbonate aquifer and two samples from the basin-fill aquifer exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) drinking water standard for arsenic of 10 micrograms per liter. One basin-fill aquifer sample exceeded the EPA drinking water standard for fluoride of 4 milligrams per liter, and one carbonate aquifer sample exceeded the EPA secondary drinking water standard for fluoride of 2 milligrams per liter. A component of modern groundwater recharged following aboveground nuclear testing beginning in the mid-1950s is present in some basin-fill and spring groundwater from this study. Groundwater that can be dated using radiocarbon decay is also present in the study area, with four groundwater samples indicating possible recharge during the Pleistocene with groundwater ages ranging from approximately 34,600 to 13,300 years before present. Other groundwater sampled during this study that can dated using radiocarbon decay ranged in age from about 7,500 to 1,100 years before present, indicating possible recharge during the Holocene.

The gaining reach of the Verde River downstream from the confluence with Granite Creek shows areal changes in temperature, pH, and specific conductance, indicating multiple zones of groundwater input. Surface-water samples for analyses of δ18O and δ2H have been collected at the Verde River near Paulden, Ariz. streamgage (09503700) during discharge measurements since 2009, and a trend analysis of the δ18O and δ2H data indicated no significant trend exists for the 10-year period of record. Additional groundwater samples from the carbonate aquifer beneath the basin-fill upgradient and downgradient from Walnut Creek would provide valuable information to understand groundwater evolution along the Big Chino subbasin.

Publication Year 2020
Title Geochemical assessment of groundwater in the Big Chino subbasin, Arizona, 2011–18
DOI 10.3133/sir20205094
Authors Kimberly R. Beisner, Casey J. R. Jones
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2020-5094
Index ID sir20205094
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization New Mexico Water Science Center