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Groundwater and surface-water resources near Red Fleet Reservoir, Uintah County, Utah

October 22, 2019

Red Fleet Reservoir in Uintah County, Utah, is an approximately 26,000 acre-foot (acre-ft) on-channel reservoir in the Big Brush Creek drainage on the south slopes of the Uinta Mountains. It is operated primarily for irrigation needs while providing a supplemental drinking-water supply to the Vernal, Utah area. Red Fleet Reservoir, which was operated by the Bureau of Reclamation and the Uintah Water Conservancy District through 2015, began storing water in May 1980. The reservoir is on southward dipping Mesozoic lithologies ranging from Jurassic to Cretaceous in age. The Nugget and Frontier Sandstone aquifers are the targeted units in this investigation, which is to characterize groundwater conditions that exist in each sandstone aquifer and how they interact with Red Fleet Reservoir. Groundwater levels were measured in six wells and one spring in the Nugget Sandstone and the Frontier Sandstone aquifers. Water levels in the Nugget Sandstone aquifer were 35–70 feet above the maximum stage of Red Fleet Reservoir on the west and east banks. Water levels in the Frontier Sandstone aquifer were 15–30 feet below the observed stage of Red Fleet Reservoir on the west bank during the study period.
A water budget was calculated for Red Fleet Reservoir between May 1980 and December 2015. During this period, 1,050,000 acre-ft of water from Big Brush Creek discharged into the reservoir, while 993,000 acre-ft of water was released downstream of Red Fleet Dam. Total evaporation from May 1980 through December 2015 was about 52,000 acre-ft, while total precipitation over the same period was about 12,000 acre-ft. From May 1980 through December 2015, the total pumped volume of water from the Tyzack Pump Station, at the base of Red Fleet Dam, was about 42,000 acre-ft. Total groundwater discharge to Red Fleet Reservoir from 1980 through 2015 was about 40,000 acre-ft.
Water was sampled from four wells and from the inflow arm of Red Fleet Reservoir, and analyzed for major-ion chemistry, select trace metals, nutrients, and environmental tracers. Water sampled from the Nugget Sandstone aquifer yielded good-quality water with dissolved-solids concentrations of less than 200 milligram per liter, and no trace elements above the Environmental Protection Agency drinking-water standards. Water sampled from the Frontier Sandstone aquifer yielded poor-quality water with dissolved-solids concentrations of about 2,150 milligrams per liter with trace elements approaching drinking-water standards for arsenic. Dissolved noble gases used to identify recharge elevations and temperatures for groundwater indicate that water in the Nugget Sandstone aquifer likely recharged at a high altitude and low temperature, and not locally because of interaction with Red Fleet Reservoir. The Frontier Sandstone aquifer is likely recharged at low elevation and at temperatures similar to those observed at Red Fleet Reservoir.