Groundwater and surface-water resources in the Bureau of Land Management Moab Master Leasing Plan area and adjacent areas, Grand and San Juan Counties, Utah, and Mesa and Montrose Counties, Colorado

Open-File Report 2014-1062
Prepared in cooperation with the Bureau of Land Management
By:  and 



The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Canyon Country District Office is preparing a leasing plan known as the Moab Master Leasing Plan (Moab MLP) for oil, gas, and potash mineral rights in an area encompassing 946,469 acres in southeastern Utah. The BLM has identified water resources as being potentially affected by oil, gas, and potash development and has requested that the U.S. Geological Survey prepare a summary of existing water-resources information for the Moab MLP area. This report includes a summary and synthesis of previous and ongoing investigations conducted in the Moab MLP and adjacent areas in Utah and Colorado from the early 1930s through the late 2000s.

Eight principal aquifers and six confining units were identified within the study area. Permeability is a function of both the primary permeability from interstitial pore connectivity and secondary permeability created by karst features or faults and fractures. Vertical hydraulic connection generally is restricted to strongly folded and fractured zones, which are concentrated along steeply dipping monoclines and in narrow regions encompassing igneous and salt intrusive masses. Several studies have identified both an upper and lower aquifer system separated by the Pennsylvanian age Paradox Member of the Hermosa Formation evaporite, which is considered a confining unit and is present throughout large parts of the study area.

Surface-water resources of the study area are dominated by the Colorado River. Several perennial and ephemeral or intermittent tributaries join the Colorado River as it flows from northeast to southwest across the study area. An annual spring snowmelt and runoff event dominates the hydrology of streams draining mountainous parts of the study area, and most perennial streams in the study area are snowmelt-dominated. A bimodal distribution is observed in hydrographs from some sites with a late-spring snowmelt-runoff peak followed by smaller peaks of shorter duration during the late summer. The large regional streams (Colorado, Green, and Dolores Rivers) integrate the regional hydrologic partitioning of a very large contributing area and, therefore, the hydrographs for these streams are much more smooth and consistent. Several streams throughout the study area are considered impaired and do not meet the standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency for specific designated-use classifications.

Limited data are available to quantitatively estimate the large-scale regional groundwater budget for the study area. Previous studies have estimated groundwater budgets for areas in and adjacent to the current study area, namely Moab-Spanish Valley and parts of the Paradox Basin. Most groundwater recharge to the study area originates as infiltration of precipitation from upland areas and is further enhanced in areas covered with sandy soils or in areas where the bedrock is highly fractured. Additional groundwater recharge occurs as seepage from streams and irrigation water, and as subsurface inflow, both vertically between aquifers and as lateral movement into the study area. Groundwater discharge occurs as seepage to streams, evapotranspiration, to springs and seeps, well withdrawals; and as subsurface outflow, both vertically between aquifers and as lateral movement out of the study area across its defined boundaries. Groundwater use in the study area was determined using data from the Utah Division of Water Rights. Most wells in the study area are categorized as having multiple uses.

Mean specific-conductance values for groundwater from wells and springs in the study area range from 101 to 220,000 microsiemens per centimeter at 25° C (μS/cm); most of the wells or springs have mean specific-conductance values of less than or equal to 1,000 μS/cm. Previously reported total dissolved-solids concentrations, specific conductances, and other groundwater-quality data for each of the principal aquifers indicate relative freshwater throughout the study area, except within the lower aquifer system and areas in contact with the Paradox Member of the Hermosa Formation evaporites.

There is limited information on the resource availability of brines and saline groundwater in the study area. Total dissolved-solids concentrations typically are high (greater than 35,000 milligrams per liter) in groundwater from, or in contact with, the Paradox Member of the Hermosa Formation. Total dissolved-solids concentrations also are high in groundwater samples collected from the lower aquifer system. Because the Paradox Member of the Hermosa Formation is considered a barrier to vertical groundwater flow, most of the brine and saline groundwater resources are restricted to the lower aquifer system.

Study Area

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Groundwater and surface-water resources in the Bureau of Land Management Moab Master Leasing Plan area and adjacent areas, Grand and San Juan Counties, Utah, and Mesa and Montrose Counties, Colorado
Series title Open-File Report
Series number 2014-1062
DOI 10.3133/ofr20141062
Year Published 2014
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Utah Water Science Center
Description vi, 85 p.
Country United States
State Colorado, Utah
County Grand County, Mesa County, Montrose County, San Juan County
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