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Hydrogeologic framework and occurrence, movement, and chemical characterization of groundwater in Dixie Valley, west-central Nevada

October 2, 2014

Dixie Valley, a primarily undeveloped basin in west-central Nevada, is being considered for groundwater exportation. Proposed pumping would occur from the basin-fill aquifer. In response to proposed exportation, the U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Bureau of Reclamation and Churchill County, conducted a study to improve the understanding of groundwater resources in Dixie Valley. The objective of this report is to characterize the hydrogeologic framework, the occurrence and movement of groundwater, the general water quality of the basin-fill aquifer, and the potential mixing between basin-fill and geothermal aquifers in Dixie Valley. Various types of geologic, hydrologic, and geochemical data were compiled from previous studies and collected in support of this study. Hydrogeologic units in Dixie Valley were defined to characterize rocks and sediments with similar lithologies and hydraulic properties influencing groundwater flow. Hydraulic properties of the basin-fill deposits were characterized by transmissivity estimated from aquifer tests and specific-capacity tests. Groundwater-level measurements and hydrogeologic-unit data were combined to create a potentiometric surface map and to characterize groundwater occurrence and movement. Subsurface inflow from adjacent valleys into Dixie Valley through the basin-fill aquifer was evaluated using hydraulic gradients and Darcy flux computations. The chemical signature and groundwater quality of the Dixie Valley basin-fill aquifer, and potential mixing between basin-fill and geothermal aquifers, were evaluated using chemical data collected from wells and springs during the current study and from previous investigations.

Dixie Valley is the terminus of the Dixie Valley flow system, which includes Pleasant, Jersey, Fairview, Stingaree, Cowkick, and Eastgate Valleys. The freshwater aquifer in the study area is composed of unconsolidated basin-fill deposits of Quaternary age. The basin-fill hydrogeologic unit can be several orders of magnitude more transmissive than surrounding and underlying consolidated rocks and Dixie Valley playa deposits. Transmissivity estimates in the basin fill throughout Dixie Valley ranged from 30 to 45,500 feet squared per day; however, a single transmissivity value of 0.1 foot squared per day was estimated for playa deposits.

Groundwater generally flows from the mountain range uplands toward the central valley lowlands and eventually discharges near the playa edge. Potentiometric contours east and west of the playa indicate that groundwater is moving eastward from the Stillwater Range and westward from the Clan Alpine Mountains toward the playa. Similarly, groundwater flows from the southern and northern basin boundaries toward the basin center. Subsurface groundwater flow likely enters Dixie Valley from Fairview and Stingaree Valleys in the south and from Jersey and Pleasant Valleys in the north, but groundwater connections through basin-fill deposits were present only across the Fairview and Jersey Valley divides. Annual subsurface inflow from Fairview and Jersey Valleys ranges from 700 to 1,300 acre-feet per year and from 1,800 to 2,300 acre-feet per year, respectively. Groundwater flow between Dixie, Stingaree, and Pleasant Valleys could occur through less transmissive consolidated rocks, but only flow through basin fill was estimated in this study.

Groundwater in the playa is distinct from the freshwater, basin-fill aquifer. Groundwater mixing between basin-fill and playa groundwater systems is physically limited by transmissivity contrasts of about four orders of magnitude. Total dissolved solids in playa deposit groundwater are nearly 440 times greater than total dissolved solids in the basin-fill groundwater. These distinctive physical and chemical flow restrictions indicate that groundwater interaction between the basin fill and playa sediments was minimal during this study period (water years 2009–11).

Groundwater in Dixie Valley generally can be characterized as a sodium bicarbonate type, with greater proportions of chloride north of the Dixie Valley playa, and greater proportions of sulfate south of the playa. Analysis of major ion water chemistry data sampled during the study period indicates that groundwater north and south of Township 22N differ chemically. Dixie Valley groundwater quality is marginal when compared with national primary and secondary drinking-water standards. Arsenic and fluoride concentrations exceed primary drinking water standards, and total dissolved solids and manganese concentrations exceed secondary drinking water standards in samples collected during this study. High concentrations of boron and tungsten also were observed.

Chemical comparisons between basin-fill and geothermal aquifer water indicate that most basin-fill groundwater sampled could contain 10–20 percent geothermal water. Geothermal indicators such as high temperature, lithium, boron, chloride, and silica suggest that mixing occurs in many wells that tap the basin-fill aquifer, particularly on the north, south, and west sides of the basin. Magnesium-lithium geothermometers indicate that some basin-fill aquifer water sampled for the current study likely originates from water that was heated above background mountain-block recharge temperatures (between 3 and 15 degrees Celsius), highlighting the influence of mixing with warm water that was possibly derived from geothermal sources.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2014
Title Hydrogeologic framework and occurrence, movement, and chemical characterization of groundwater in Dixie Valley, west-central Nevada
DOI 10.3133/sir20145152
Authors Jena M. Huntington, C. Amanda Garcia, Michael R. Rosen
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2014-5152
Index ID sir20145152
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Nevada Water Science Center