The Markagunt Plateau, in southwestern Utah, lies at an altitude of about 9,500 feet and is capped primarily by Quaternary-age basalt that overlies Eocene-age freshwater limestone of the Claron Formation. Over large parts of the Markagunt Plateau, dissolution of the Claron limestone and subsequent collapse of the overlying basalt have produced a terrain characterized by sinkholes as much as 1,000 feet across and 100 feet deep. Numerous large springs discharge from the basalt and underlying limestone on the plateau, including Mammoth Spring, one of the largest springs in Utah, with a discharge that can exceed 300 cubic feet per second. Discharge from Mammoth Spring is from the Claron Formation; however, recharge to the spring largely takes place by both focused and diffuse infiltration through the basalt that caps the limestone. Results of dye tracing to Mammoth Spring indicate that recharge originates largely southwest of the spring outside of the Mammoth Creek watershed, as well as from losing reaches along Mammoth Creek. Maximum groundwater travel time to the spring from dye-tracer tests during the snowmelt runoff period was about 1 week. Specific conductance and water temperature data from the spring show an inverse relation to discharge during snowmelt runoff and rainfall events, also indicating short groundwater residence times. Results of major-ion analyses for samples collected from Mammoth and other springs on the plateau indicate calcium-bicarbonate type water containing low (less than 200 mg/L) dissolved-solids concentrations.
Investigations in the Navajo Lake area along the southern margin of the plateau have shown that water losing to sinkholes bifurcates and discharges to both Cascade and Duck Creek Springs, which subsequently flow into the Virgin and Sevier River basins, respectively. Groundwater travel times to these springs, on the basis of dye tracing, were about 8.5 and 53 hours, respectively. Similarly, groundwater travel time from Duck Creek Sinks to Lower Asay Spring was about 68 hours. Dye-tracer studies conducted at the Mammoth Creek fish hatchery along the eastern margin of the Markagunt Plateau indicate that water losing through the channel of Mammoth Creek 3,000 feet upstream of the hatchery discharges from the hatchery springs in about 7.5 hours. Results of studies using soil bacteria and club moss spores as surrogate particle tracers for the whirling disease parasite also indicate that the potential exists for transport of the parasite to the springs from Mammoth Creek.