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Hydraulic characterization of carbonate-rock and basin-fill aquifers near Long Canyon, Goshute Valley, northeastern Nevada

May 7, 2021

Understanding groundwater flow and pumping effects near pending mining operations requires accurate subsurface hydraulic characterization. To improve conceptual models of groundwater flow and development in the complex hydrogeologic system near Long Canyon Mine, in northwestern Goshute Valley, northeastern Nevada, the U.S. Geological Survey characterized the hydraulic properties of carbonate rocks and basin-fill aquifers using an integrated analysis of steady-state and stressed aquifer conditions informed by water chemistry and aquifer-test data. Hydraulic gradients and groundwater-age data in northern Goshute Valley indicate carbonate rocks in the Pequop Mountains just west and south of the Long Canyon Mine project area constitute a more permeable and active flow system than saturated rocks in the northern Pequop Mountains, western Toano Range, and basin fill. Permeable carbonate rocks in the northern Pequop Mountains, in part, discharge to the Johnson Springs wetland complex (JSWC), where mean groundwater ages range from 500 to 2,400 years and samples all contain a small fraction of modern waters, relative to mean ages of 8,600 to more than 22,000 years for most groundwater sampled to the north and east. Recharge to the JSWC occurs from a roughly 27-square-mile area in the upgradient Pequop Mountains to the west, composed mostly of permeable carbonate rock and fractured quartzite, and bounded by low-permeability shales and marbleized and siliclastic rocks.

Single-well aquifer-test analyses provided transmissivity estimates at pumped wells. Transmissivity estimates ranged from 7,000 to 400,000 feet squared per day (ft2/d) in carbonate rocks and from 2,000 to 80,000 ft2/d in basin fill near the Long Canyon Mine. Water-level drawdown from multiple-well aquifer testing and rise from unintentional leakage into the overlying basin-fill aquifer were estimated and distinguished from natural fluctuations in 93 pumping and monitoring sites using analytical water-level models. Leakage of disposed aquifer-test pumpage occurred south of the aquifer test area through an unlined irrigation ditch. Drawdown was detected at distances of as much as 3 miles (mi) from pumping wells at all but one carbonate-rock site, at basin-fill sites on the alluvial fan immediately downgradient from pumping wells, and in Big Spring and spring NS-05. Similar drawdowns in carbonate rocks within the drawdown detection area suggest all wells penetrate a highly transmissive zone (HTZ) that is bounded by low-permeability rocks. Drawdown was not detected in carbonate rocks to the west of Canyon fault, in any basin-fill sites on the valley floor east of the Hardy fault, or at volcanic sites to the north, indicating that these major fault structures and (or) permeability contrasts between hydrogeologic units impeded groundwater flow or obscured pumping signals. Alternatively, unintentional leakage might have obscured drawdown at basin-fill sites on the valley floor, where water-level rise was detected at nine sites over 3 mi.

Consistent hydraulic properties were estimated by simultaneously interpreting steady-state flow during predevelopment conditions and changes in groundwater levels and springflows from the 2016 carbonate-rock aquifer test with an integrated groundwater-flow model. Hydraulic properties were distributed across carbonate rocks, basin fill, volcanic rocks, and siliciclastic rocks with a hydrogeologic framework developed from geologic mapping and hydraulic testing. Estimated transmissivity distributions spanned at least three orders of magnitude in each rock unit. In the HTZ, simulated transmissivities ranged from 10,000 to 23,000,000 ft2/d, with the most transmissive areas occurring around Big Spring. Comparatively low carbonate-rock transmissivities of less than 10,000 ft2/d were estimated in the northern Pequop Mountains and poorly defined values of less than 1,000 ft2/d were estimated in the western Toano Range. Transmissivities in basin fill ranged from less than 10 to 80,000 ft2/d and were minimally constrained by the 2016 carbonate-rock aquifer test because poorly quantified leakage affected water levels more so than pumping. The most transmissive areas were informed by single-well aquifer tests along the eastern edge of the Pequop Mountains near Long Canyon Mine and could be indicative of a hydraulic connection between basin fill and more transmissive underlying carbonate rocks. Simulated transmissivities of volcanic and low-permeability rocks mostly are less than 1,000 ft2/d. The estimated hydraulic-property distributions and informed interpretation of hydraulic connections among hydrogeologic units improved the characterization and representation of groundwater flow near the Long Canyon Mine.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2021
Title Hydraulic characterization of carbonate-rock and basin-fill aquifers near Long Canyon, Goshute Valley, northeastern Nevada
DOI 10.3133/sir20215021
Authors C. Amanda Garcia, Keith J. Halford, Philip M. Gardner, David W. Smith
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2021-5021
Index ID sir20215021
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Nevada Water Science Center