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Geochemical characterization of groundwater discharging from springs north of the Grand Canyon, Arizona, 2009–2016

August 1, 2017

A geochemical study was conducted on 37 springs discharging from the Toroweap Formation, Coconino Sandstone, Hermit Formation, Supai Group, and Redwall Limestone north of the Grand Canyon near areas of breccia-pipe uranium mining. Baseline concentrations were established for the elements As, B, Li, Se, SiO2, Sr, Tl, U, and V. Three springs exceeded U.S. Environmental Protection Agency drinking water standards: Fence Spring for arsenic, Pigeon Spring for selenium and uranium, and Willow (Hack) Spring for selenium. The majority of the spring sites had uranium values of less than 10 micrograms per liter (μg/L), but six springs discharging from all of the geologic units studied that are located stratigraphically above the Redwall Limestone had uranium values greater than 10 μg/L (Cottonwood [Tuckup], Grama, Pigeon, Rock, and Willow [Hack and Snake Gulch] Springs). The geochemical characteristics of these six springs with elevated uranium include Ca-Mg-SO4 water type, circumneutral pH, high specific conductance, correlation and multivariate associations between U, Mo, Sr, Se, Li, and Zn, low 87Sr/86Sr, low 234U/238U activity ratios (1.34–2.31), detectable tritium, and carbon isotopic interpretation indicating they may be a mixture of modern and pre-modern waters. Similar geochemical compositions of spring waters having elevated uranium concentrations are observed at sites located both near and away from sites of uranium-mining activities in the present study. Therefore, mining does not appear to explain the presence of elevated uranium concentrations in groundwater at the six springs noted above. The elevated uranium at the six previously mentioned springs may be influenced by iron mineralization associated with mineralized breccia pipe deposits. Six springs discharging from the Coconino Sandstone (Upper Jumpup, Little, Horse, and Slide Springs) and Redwall Limestone (Kanab and Side Canyon Springs) contained water with corrected radiocarbon ages as much as 9,300 years old. Of the springs discharging water with radiocarbon age, Kanab and Side Canyon Springs contain tritium of more than 1.3 picocuries per liter (pCi/L), indicating they may contain a component of modern water recharged after 1952. Springs containing high values of tritium (greater than 5.1 pCi/L), which may suggest a significant component of modern water, include Willow (Hack), Saddle Horse, Cottonwood (Tuckup), Hotel, Bitter, Unknown, Hole in the Wall, and Hanging Springs. Fence and Rider Springs, located on the eastern end of the study area near the Colorado River, have distinctly different geochemical compositions compared to the other springs of the study. Additionally, water from Fence Spring has the highest 87Sr/86Sr for samples analyzed from this study with a value greater than those known in sedimentary rocks from the region. Strontium isotope data likely indicate that water discharging at Fence Spring has interacted with Precambrian basement rocks. Rider Spring had the most depleted values of stable O and H isotopes indicating that recharge, if recent, occurred at higher elevations or was recharged during earlier, cooler-climate conditions.

Publication Year 2017
Title Geochemical characterization of groundwater discharging from springs north of the Grand Canyon, Arizona, 2009–2016
DOI 10.3133/sir20175068
Authors Kimberly R. Beisner, Fred D. Tillman, Jessica R. Anderson, Ronald C. Antweiler, Donald J. Bills
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2017-5068
Index ID sir20175068
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Arizona Water Science Center