Sweetwater County is located in the southwestern part of Wyoming and is the largest county in the State. A study to quantify the availability and describe the chemical quality of surface-water and ground-water resources in Sweetwater County was conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey in cooperation with the Wyoming State Engineers Office. Most of the county has an arid climate. For this reason a large amount of the flow in perennial streams within the county is derived from outside the county. Likewise, much of the ground-water recharge to aquifers within the county is from flows into the county, and occurs slowly. Surface-water data were not collected as part of the study. Evaluations of streamflow and stream-water quality were limited to analyses of historical data and descriptions of previous investigations. Forty-six new ground-water-quality samples were collected as part of the study and the results from an additional 782 historical ground-water-quality samples were reviewed. Available hydrogeologic characteristics for various aquifers throughout the county also are described.
Flow characteristics of streams in Sweetwater County vary substantially depending on regional and local basin characteristics and anthropogenic factors. Because precipitation amounts in the county are small, most streams in the county are ephemeral, flowing only as a result of regional or local rainfall or snowmelt runoff. Flows in perennial streams in the county generally are a result of snowmelt runoff in the mountainous headwater areas to the north, west, and south of the county. Flow characteristics of most perennial streams are altered substantially by diversions and regulation.
Water-quality characteristics of selected streams in and near Sweetwater County during water years 1974 through 1983 were variable. Concentrations of dissolved constituents, suspended sediment, and bacteria generally were smallest at sites on the Green River because of resistant geologic units, increased vegetative cover, large diluting streamflows, and large reservoirs. Concentrations of dissolved constituents, suspended sediment, and bacteria generally were largest at sites in the Big Sandy River and Bitter Creek Basins. Some nutrient concentrations and bacteria counts exceeded various State and Federal water-quality criteria. Historical and recent anthropogenic activities contributed to natural sources of many dissolved constituents and suspended sediment.
Both water-table and artesian conditions occur in aquifers within the county. Shallow ground water is available throughout the county, although much of it is only marginally suitable or is unsuitable for domestic and irrigation uses mainly because of high total dissolved solids (TDS) concentrations. Suitable ground water for livestock use can be found in most areas of the county. Ground-water quality tends to deteriorate with increasing distance from recharge areas and with increasing depth below land surface. Ground water from depths of greater than a few thousand feet tends to have TDS concentrations that make it moderately saline to briny. In some areas even shallow ground water has moderately saline TDS concentrations. Specific constituents in parts of some aquifers in the county occur in relatively high concentrations when compared to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency drinking-water standards. Relatively high concentrations of sulfate, fluoride, boron, iron, and manganese were found in several aquifers. Many ground-water samples from the Battle Spring aquifer in the Great Divide Structural Basin had high radionuclide concentrations.
The estimated mean daily water use in Sweetwater County in 2000 was 170.73 million gallons per day. Irrigation was the largest single use of water in the county with an estimated mean use of more than 92 million gallons per day. Surface water irrigation accounted for nearly 90 percent of the total irrigation water used in 2000. Although ground water is used to a much