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Hydrogeology and groundwater quality in the San Agustin Basin, New Mexico, 1975–2019

May 27, 2022

This report describes the findings of a U.S. Geological Survey study, completed in cooperation with the Bureau of Land Management, focused on better understanding the present-day (1975–2019) hydrogeology and groundwater quality of the San Agustin Basin in west-central New Mexico to support sustainable groundwater resource management. The basin hosts a relatively undeveloped basin-fill and alluvium aquifer system and is topographically divided into east and west subbasins by the McClure Hills. Groundwater chemistry and groundwater elevation data were compiled, collected, and interpreted in the context of groundwater flow and quality. The analyses presented in this report consider groundwater chemistry data collected within the last decade (2010–19) and groundwater elevation data collected from 1975 through 2019 to provide insight into present-day conditions. Groundwater elevations show that groundwater typically moves from the highlands to the lowlands, with a prominent east to west regional trend. Groundwater elevations were lowest in the southwestern portion of the west subbasin, where estimated flow directions suggest underflow through the local highlands into the northern East Fork Gila River watershed, which is further supported by historical groundwater elevation data from the northern East Fork Gila River watershed. Gradual groundwater elevation gradients (about 2 feet per mile) near the east and west subbasin divide suggest that groundwater slowly flows from the east subbasin to the west subbasin.

Quantitative analyses of groundwater chemistry data show that groundwater in both subbasins has similar chemical characteristics. A systematic east to west groundwater evolution in water chemistry was not observed despite evidenced subbasin connectivity. The absence of this pattern suggests that groundwater mixing is regionally prevalent, sediment reactivity is low and variable, and (or) recharge conditions are comparable in both subbasins. Groundwater chemistry was generally independent of aquifer type, suggesting that the aquifers are hydrologically well connected. Corrected carbon-14 groundwater age estimates in the basin ranged from 232 to 13,916 years before present with a median of 5,409 years. A wide range of groundwater ages is therefore present in the basin, with waters commonly being thousands of years old, thereby supporting generally slow regional groundwater movement. A component of relatively young groundwater, for which estimated ages could not be accurately computed, is also present in the basin, and it may commonly mix with older waters. The spatial distribution of categorical and quantitative groundwater ages indicates that most recharge likely occurs in the highlands through mountain-block recharge and as focused recharge within arroyos, although evidence of modern (1953 and after) groundwater was minimal at sampled sites.

Median annual gradients (groundwater elevation change over time) indicate that most groundwater elevations in the lowlands changed little (−0.2 to 0.2 foot per year) from 1975 through 2019. Groundwater elevations in the highlands varied more annually, which is likely due to recharge from precipitation events. These more variable groundwater elevations in the highlands compared with the lowlands, along with groundwater ages, provide further evidence that most groundwater recharge takes place in the highlands, with minimal recharge in the lowlands. Median groundwater elevation change for all sites was −0.05 foot per year. Temporal consistency of lowland groundwater elevations suggests that regional groundwater dynamics have been more or less stable through time under current climate and development conditions, although median annual gradients indicate that groundwater elevations may have slightly declined on average between 1975 and 2019.

Publication Year 2022
Title Hydrogeology and groundwater quality in the San Agustin Basin, New Mexico, 1975–2019
DOI 10.3133/sir20225029
Authors Jeff D. Pepin, Rebecca E. Travis, Johanna M. Blake, Alex Rinehart, Daniel Koning
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2022-5029
Index ID sir20225029
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization New Mexico Water Science Center