In April 2001, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) began a cooperative study to infer the pre-mining ground-water chemistry at the Molycorp molybdenum mine site in the Red River Valley. The Molycorp mine has been in operation since the 1920s. Because ground-water conditions prior to mining are not available, sites analogous to the pre-mining conditions at the mine site must be studied to infer those pre-mining conditions. The Straight Creek drainage basin (watershed) was selected as the primary analog site for this study because of its similar terrain and geology to the mine site, accessibility, potential for well construction, and minimal anthropogenic activity. The purpose of this report is to present results of a water-budget analysis of the debris-flow aquifer in the Straight Creek watershed. The water budget is based on mean annual conditions and is assumed to be steady state.
For this study, the Straight Creek watershed was divided into sub-watersheds on the basis of locations of seismic lines, which were used to calculate cross-section area through the Straight Creek debris-flow deposits and underlying fractured and weathered bedrock (regolith). Water-budget components were calculated for areas upstream from and between the seismic lines. Components of the water budget were precipitation, evapotranspiration, surface-water flow, and ground-water flow under a steady-state mean annual condition. Watershed yield, defined as precipitation minus evapotranspiration, was separated into surface-water flow, ground-water flow through the debris-flow deposits and regolith, and ground-water flow through fractured bedrock. The approach to this calculation was to use Darcy?s Law to calculate the flow through the cross-section area of the saturated debris-flow deposits and underlying regolith as defined by the interpreted seismic data. The amount of watershed yield unaccounted for through this section then was attributed to either surface-water flow or the component of ground-water flow through fractured bedrock.
The inflow to the watershed, calculated to be 701 gallons per minute, is from precipitation. The calculated outflow from the watershed at or upstream from seismic-line 5 (the downstream-most line in Straight Creek prior to entering the Red River Valley) is 540 gallons per minute of evapotranspiration in the watershed upstream from line 5 (77.0 percent of precipitation), 5 gallons per minute of surface-water flow (0.7 percent of precipitation), 122 gallons per minute of ground-water flow through the debris-flow deposits and underlying regolith defined by the seismic data (17.4 percent of precipitation), and 34 gallons per minute of ground-water flow through fractured bedrock below the defined seismic line (4.9 percent of precipitation).
The ground-water flow through the alluvium and inter-tonguing debris-flow deposits of the Red River Valley was calculated to be 5,227 gallons per minute at seismic-line 7, the first seismic line in the Red River Valley downstream from Straight Creek. The water budget indicates the amount of ground-water flow that enters the Red River alluvium from the debris-flow deposits and regolith in Straight Creek is small (about 2.3 percent; 122 gallons per minute) compared to the volume of flow that moves through the Red River alluvium. The total amount of ground-water flow from Straight Creek (156 gallons per minute; 122 gallons per minute from debris-flow deposits and regolith plus 34 gallons per minute through fractured bedrock) is about 3.0 percent of the ground-water flow calculated at line 7 for the Red River alluvium.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Questa Baseline and Pre-Mining Ground-Water-Quality Investigation 22 - Ground-Water Budget for the Straight Creek Drainage Basin, Red River Valley, New Mexico