Hydrogeology and sources of water to select springs in Black Canyon, south of Hoover Dam, Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Nevada and Arizona

Scientific Investigations Report 2015-5130
Prepared in cooperation with the National Park Service
By: , and 

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Abstract

Springs in Black Canyon of the Colorado River, directly south of Hoover Dam in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Nevada and Arizona, are important hydrologic features that support a unique riparian ecosystem including habitat for endangered species. Rapid population growth in areas near and surrounding Black Canyon has caused concern among resource managers that such growth could affect the discharge from these springs. The U.S. Geological Survey studied the springs in Black Canyon between January 2008, and May 2014. The purposes of this study were to provide a baseline of discharge and hydrochemical data from selected springs in Black Canyon and to better understand the sources of water to the springs.

Various hydrologic, hydrochemical, geochemical, and geologic data were collected and analyzed during this study. More than 100 hydrologic sites consisting of springs, seeps, pools, rivers, reservoirs, and wells were investigated, and measurements were taken at 75 of these sites. Water levels were measured or compiled for 42 wells and samples of water were collected from 36 unique sites and submitted for laboratory analyses of hydrochemical constituents. Measurements of discrete discharge were made from nine unique spring areas and four sites in Black Canyon were selected for continuous monitoring of discharge. Additionally, samples of rock near Hoover Dam were collected and analyzed to determine the age of spring deposits.

Results of hydrochemical analyses indicate that discharge from springs in Black Canyon is from two sources: (1) Lake Mead, and (2) a local and (or) regional source. Discharge from springs closest to Hoover Dam contains a substantial percentage (>50 percent) of water from Lake Mead. This includes springs that are between Hoover Dam and Palm Tree Spring. Discharge from springs south of Palm Tree Spring contains a substantial percentage (>50 percent) of the water that is believed to come from a combination of other local and regional sources, although the exact location and nature of these sources is not clear. The unique hydrochemistry of some springs, such as Bighorn Sheep Spring and Latos Pool, suggests that little if any water discharging from these springs comes from Lake Mead. Geochronological results of spring deposits at several sites near Hoover Dam indicate that most deposits are young and likely formed after the construction of Hoover Dam.

Several major faults, including the Salt Cedar Fault and the Palm Tree Fault, play an important role in the movement of groundwater. Groundwater may move along these faults and discharge where faults intersect volcanic breccias or fractured rock. Vertical movement of groundwater along faults is suggested as a mechanism for the introduction of heat energy present in groundwater from many of the springs. Groundwater altitudes in the study area indicate a potential for flow from Eldorado Valley to Black Canyon although current interpretations of the geology of this area do not favor such flow. If groundwater from Eldorado Valley discharges at springs in Black Canyon then the development of groundwater resources in Eldorado Valley could result in a decrease in discharge from the springs. Geology and structure indicate that it is not likely that groundwater can move between Detrital Valley and Black Canyon. Thus, the development of groundwater resources in Detrital Valley may not result in a decrease in discharge from springs in Black Canyon.

Suggested Citation

Moran, M.J., Wilson, J.W., and Beard, L.S., 2015, Hydrogeology and sources of water to select springs in Black Canyon, south of Hoover Dam, Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Nevada and Arizona: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2015–5130, 61 p., http://dx.doi.org/10.3133/sir20155130.

ISSN: 2328-0328 (online)

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Geology and Hydrogeology
  • Previous Studies
  • Methods
  • Water Level, Discharge, and Hydrochemistry
  • Hydrogeology and Sources of Water to Springs in Black Canyon
  • Summary
  • Acknowledgments
  • References Cited
  • Appendixes A–D

Additional publication details

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Hydrogeology and sources of water to select springs in Black Canyon, south of Hoover Dam, Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Nevada and Arizona
Series title Scientific Investigations Report
Series number 2015-5130
DOI 10.3133/sir20155130
Year Published 2015
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Nevada Water Science Center
Description Report: viii, 61 p.; 4 Appendixes
Country United States
State Arizona, Nevada
Other Geospatial Black Canyon
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Additional Online Files (Y/N) Y