A multiple-tracer approach to understanding regional groundwaterflow in the Snake Valley area of the eastern Great Basin, USA

Applied Geochemistry



Groundwater in Snake Valley and surrounding basins in the eastern Great Basin province of the western United States is being targeted for large-scale groundwater extraction and export. Concern about declining groundwater levels and spring flows in western Utah as a result of the proposed groundwater withdrawals has led to efforts that have improved the understanding of this regional groundwater flow system. In this study, environmental tracers (del2H, del18O, 3H, 14C, 3He, 4He, 20Ne, 40Ar, 84Kr, and 129Xe) and major ions from 142 sites were evaluated to investigate groundwater recharge and flow-path characteristics. With few exceptions, del2H and del18O show that most valley groundwater has similar ratios to mountain springs, indicating recharge is dominated by relatively high-altitude precipitation. The spatial distribution of 3H, terrigenic helium (4Heterr), and 3H/3He ages shows that modern groundwater (<60 yr) in valley aquifers is found only in the western third of the study area. Pleistocene and late-Holocene groundwater is found in the eastern parts of the study area. The age of Pleistocene groundwater is supported by minimum adjusted radiocarbon ages of up to 32 ka. Noble gas recharge temperatures (NGTs) are generally 1–11 degrees C in Snake and southern Spring Valleys and >11 degrees C to the east of Snake Valley and indicate a hydraulic discontinuity between Snake and Tule Valleys across the northern Confusion Range. The combination of NGTs and 4Heterr shows that the majority of Snake Valley groundwater discharges as springs, evapotranspiration, and well withdrawals within Snake Valley rather than continuing northeastward to discharge at either Fish Springs or the Great Salt Lake Playa. The refined understanding of groundwater recharge and flow paths acquired from this multi-tracer investigation has broad implications for interbasin subsurface flow estimates and future groundwater development.

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Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title A multiple-tracer approach to understanding regional groundwaterflow in the Snake Valley area of the eastern Great Basin, USA
Series title Applied Geochemistry
DOI 10.1016/j.apgeochem.2014.02.010
Volume 45
Year Published 2014
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Contributing office(s) Utah Water Science Center
Description 17 p.
First page 33
Last page 49
Country United States
State Nevada, Utah
Other Geospatial Great Basin, Snake Valley
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