Geologic history and hydrogeologic setting of the Edwards-Trinity aquifer system, west-central Texas

Water-Resources Investigations Report 94-4039

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The Edwards-Trinity aquifer system underlies about 42,000 square miles of west-central Texas. Nearly flat-lying, mostly Comanche (Lower Cretaceous) strata of the aquifer system thin northwestward atop massive pre-Cretaceous rocks that are comparatively impermeable and structurally complex. From predominately terrigenous clastic sediments in the east and fluvialdeltaic (terrestrial) deposits in the west, the rocks of early Trinitian age grade upward into supratidal evaporitic and dolomitic strata, intertidal limestone and dolostone, and shallow-marine, openshelf, and reefal strata of late Trinitian, Fredericksburgian, and Washitan age. A thick, downfaulted remnant of mostly open-marine strata of Eaglefordian through Navarroan age composes a small, southeastern part of the aquifer system.

The Trinity Group was deposited atop a rolling peneplain of pre-Cretaceous rocks during three predominately transgressive cycles of sedimentation that encroached upon the Llano uplift. The Fredericksburg and Washita Groups were deposited above the Trinity Group mostly in the lee of the Stuart City reef trend, a shelf margin ridge that sheltered depositional environments in the study area. The Washita Group subsequently was covered with thick, mostly fine-grained Gulf strata.

During late Oligocene through early Miocene time, large-scale normal faulting formed the Balcones fault zone, where the Cretaceous strata were downfaulted, intensively fractured, and differentially rotated within a series of northeasttrending fault blocks. In addition to fracturing the rocks in the fault zone and extending the depth of freshwater diagenesis, the faulting vertically displaced the terrain, which steepened hydraulic gradients and maintained relatively high flow velocities near the surface. A shallow regime of dynamic ground-water flow evolved that promoted dissolution and enhanced the transmissivity of the Edwards Group in the Balcones fault zone. Cementation, recrystallization, and mineral replacement caused by deeper, comparatively sluggish ground-water circulation combined to diminish the transmissivity of the underlying Trinity Group, as well as most Cretaceous strata in the Hill Country, Edwards-Plateau, and Trans-Pecos.

The Trinity, Fredericksburg, and Washita strata compose a regional aquifer system of three aquifers, whose water-transmitting characteristics generally are continuous in the lateral direction, and two hydraulically tight confining units. The aquifers are the Edwards aquifer in the Balcones fault zone, the Trinity aquifer in the Balcones fault zone and Hill Country, and the Edwards-Trinity aquifer in the Edwards Plateau and Trans-Pecos. The Navarro-Del Rio confining unit overlies the subcrop of the Edwards aquifer, and the Hammett confining unit lies within the updip, basal part of the Trinity aquifer and a small southeastern fringe of the Edwards-Trinity aquifer. The confining units are mostly calcareous mudstone, siltstone, and shale of low-energy terrigenous and openshelf marine depositional environments. The aquifers mainly result from fractures, joint cavities, and porosity caused by the dissolution of evaporites and unstable carbonate constituents. 

Because the diagenetic effects of cementation, recrystallization, and mineral replacement diminish the hydraulic conductivity of most rocks composing the Trinity and Edwards-Trinity aquifers, transmissivity values average less than 10,000 feet squared per day over more than 90 percent of the study area. However, the effects of tectonic fractures and dissolution in the Balcones fault zone cause transmissivity values to average about 750,000 feet squared per day in the Edwards aquifer, which occupies less than 10 percent of the study area.

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Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Geologic history and hydrogeologic setting of the Edwards-Trinity aquifer system, west-central Texas
Series title:
Water-Resources Investigations Report
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Austin, TX
Contributing office(s):
Texas Water Science Center
iv, 51 p.
United States
Other Geospatial:
Edwards-Trinity aquifer system
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