Groundwater beneath the northern Chihuahuan Desert, Trans-Pecos, Texas, USA, occurs in both carbonate and siliciclastic aquifers beneath a thick unsaturated zone and in shallow Rio Grande alluvium. Groundwater hydrochemical evolution was investigated by analyzing soils, soil leachates, bolson-fill sediments, water from the unsaturated zone, and groundwater from three major aquifers. Ionic relations, mineral saturation states, and geochemical modeling show that groundwater compositions are controlled by reactions in the unsaturated zone, mineralogy of unsaturated sediments and aquifers, position in the groundwater flow system, and extensive irrigation. Recharge to aquifers unaffected by irrigation is initially a Ca-HCO3 type as a result of dissolving carbonate surficial salts. With continued flow and mineral-water interaction, saturation with calcite and dolomite is maintained, gypsum is dissolved, and aqueous Ca and Mg are exchanged for adsorbed Na to produce a Na-SO4 water. Groundwater in Rio Grande alluvium is a Na-Cl type, reflecting river-water composition and the effects of irrigation, evapotranspiration, and surficial salt recycling. These results document two hydrochemical evolution paths for groundwater in arid lands. If recharge is dilute precipitation, significant changes in water chemistry can occur in unsaturated media, ion exchange can be as important as dissolution-precipitation reactions in determining groundwater composition, and mineral-water reactions ultimately control groundwater composition. If recharge is return flow of irrigation water that already contains appreciable solutes, mineral-water reactions are less important than irrigation-water composition in determining groundwater chemistry.
Additional publication details
Hydrochemical evolution of sodium-sulfate and sodium-chloride groundwater beneath the Northern Chihuahuan Desert, Trans-Pecos, Texas, USA