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Hydrogeologic and geochemical characterization of groundwater resources in Rush Valley, Tooele County, Utah

September 20, 2011

The water resources of Rush Valley were assessed during 2008–2010 with an emphasis on refining the understanding of the groundwater-flow system and updating the groundwater budget. Surface-water resources within Rush Valley are limited and are generally used for agriculture. Groundwater is the principal water source for most other uses including supplementing irrigation. Most groundwater withdrawal in Rush Valley is from the unconsolidated basin-fill aquifer where conditions are generally unconfined near the mountain front and confined at lower altitudes near the valley center. Productive aquifers also occur in fractured bedrock along the valley margins and beneath the basin-fill deposits in some areas.

Drillers’ logs and geophysical gravity data were compiled and used to delineate seven hydrogeologic units important to basin-wide groundwater movement. The principal basin-fill aquifer includes the unconsolidated Quaternary-age alluvial and lacustrine deposits of (1) the upper basin-fill aquifer unit (UBFAU) and the consolidated and semiconsolidated Tertiary-age lacustrine and alluvial deposits of (2) the lower basin-fill aquifer unit (LBFAU). Bedrock hydrogeologic units include (3) the Tertiary-age volcanic unit (VU), (4) the Pennsylvanian- to Permian-age upper carbonate aquifer unit (UCAU), (5) the upper Mississippian- to lower Pennsylvanian-age upper siliciclastic confining unit (USCU), (6) the Middle Cambrian- to Mississippian-age lower carbonate aquifer unit (LCAU), and (7) the Precambrian- to Lower Cambrian-age noncarbonate confining unit (NCCU). Most productive bedrock wells in the Rush Valley groundwater basin are in the UCAU.

Average annual recharge to the Rush Valley groundwater basin is estimated to be about 39,000 acre-feet. Nearly all recharge occurs as direct infiltration of snowmelt and rainfall within the mountains with smaller amounts occurring as infiltration of streamflow and unconsumed irrigation water at or near the mountain front. Groundwater generally flows from the higher altitude recharge areas toward two distinct valley-bottom discharge areas: one in the vicinity of Rush Lake in northern Rush Valley and the other located west and north of Vernon. Average annual discharge from the Rush Valley groundwater basin is estimated to be about 43,000 acre-feet. Most discharge occurs as evapotranspiration in the valley lowlands, as discharge to springs and streams, and as withdrawal from wells. Subsurface discharge outflow to Tooele and Cedar Valleys makes up only a small fraction of natural discharge.

Groundwater samples were collected from 25 sites (24 wells and one spring) for geochemical analysis. Dissolved-solids concentrations in water from these sites ranged from 181 to 1,590 milligrams per liter. Samples from seven wells contained arsenic concentrations that exceed the Environmental Protection Agency Maximum Contaminant Level of 10 micrograms per liter. The highest arsenic levels are found north of Vernon and in southeastern Rush Valley. Stable-isotope ratios of oxygen and deuterium, along with dissolved-gas recharge temperatures, indicate that nearly all modern groundwater is meteoric and derived from the infiltration of high altitude precipitation in the mountains. These data are consistent with recharge estimates made using a Basin Characterization Model of net infiltration that shows nearly all recharge occurring as infiltration of precipitation and snowmelt within the mountains surrounding Rush Valley. Tritium concentrations between 0.4 and 10 tritium units indicate the presence of modern (less than 60 years old) groundwater at 7 of the 25 sample sites. Apparent 3H/3He ages, calculated for six of these sites, range from 3 to 35 years. Adjusted minimum radiocarbon ages of premodern water samples range from about 1,600 to 42,000 years with samples from 11 of 13 sites being more than 11,000 years. These data help to identify areas where modern groundwater is circulating through the hydrologic system on time scales of decades or less and indicate that large parts of the principal basin-fill and the bedrock aquifers are much less active and receive little to no modern recharge.

Publication Year 2011
Title Hydrogeologic and geochemical characterization of groundwater resources in Rush Valley, Tooele County, Utah
DOI 10.3133/sir20115068
Authors Philip M. Gardner, Stefan Kirby
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2011-5068
Index ID sir20115068
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Utah Water Science Center