The U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the U.S. Forest Service, examined the geologic framework, regional aquifer properties, and spring, creek, and seep properties of the upper San Mateo Creek Basin near Mount Taylor, which contains areas proposed for exploratory drilling and possible uranium mining on U.S. Forest Service land. The geologic structure of the region was formed from uplift of the Zuni Mountains during the Laramide Orogeny and the Neogene volcanism associated with the Mount Taylor Volcanic Field. Within this structural context, numerous aquifers are present in various Paleozoic and Mesozoic sedimentary formations and the Quaternary alluvium. The distribution of the aquifers is spatially variable because of the dip of the formations and erosion that produced the current landscape configuration where older formations have been exhumed closer to the Zuni Mountains. Many of the alluvial deposits and formations that contain groundwater likely are hydraulically connected because of the solid-matrix properties, such as substantive porosity, but shale layers such as those found in the Mancos Formation and Chinle Group likely restrict vertical flow. Existing water-level data indicate topologically downgradient flow in the Quaternary alluvium and indiscernible general flow patterns in the lower aquifers. According to previously published material and the geologic structure of the aquifers, the flow direction in the lower aquifers likely is in the opposite direction compared to the alluvium aquifer. Groundwater within the Chinle Group is known to be confined, which may allow upward migration of water into the Morrison Formation; however, confining layers within the Chinle Group likely retard upward leakage. Groundwater was sodium-bicarbonate/sulfate dominant or mixed cation-mixed anion with some calcium/bicarbonate water in the study area. The presence of the reduction/oxidation-sensitive elements iron and manganese in groundwater indicates reducing conditions at some time or in some location(s) in most aquifers. Frequent detections of zinc in the alluvium aquifer may represent anthropogenic influences such as mining. Along the mesas in the upper San Mateo Creek Basin, springs that form various creeks, including El Rito and San Mateo Creeks, discharge from the basalt-cap layer and the upper Cretaceous sedimentary layers. Streamflow in El Rito and San Mateo Creeks flows down steep gradients near the mesas sustained by groundwater discharges, and this streamflow transitions to shallow groundwater contained within the valley alluvium through infiltration where the subsequent groundwater is restricted from downward migration by the shaly Menefee Formation. This shallow groundwater reemerges at seeps where the land surface has been eroded below the groundwater level. Spring- and creek-water samples contained small amounts of dissolved solutes, and seep water contained substantially larger amounts of dissolved solutes. The pH of water within the creeks was neutral to alkaline, and all locations exhibited well-oxygenated conditions, although typically at substantially less than saturated levels. Changes in the stable-isotope ratios of water between spring and summer samples indicate differences in source-water inputs that likely pertain to seasonal recharge sources. Results of the water-isotope analysis and geochemical modeling indicate little evaporation and chemical weathering at the spring and creek sites but stronger evaporation and chemical weathering by the time the water reaches the seep locations in the center of the upper San Mateo Creek Basin.
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USGS Numbered Series
Geologic framework, regional aquifer properties (1940s-2009), and spring, creek, and seep properties (2009-10) of the upper San Mateo Creek Basin near Mount Taylor, New Mexico