The Navajo Nation and Hopi Tribe of the Black Mesa area, Arizona, depend on ground water from the N aquifer to meet most tribal and industrial needs. Increasing use of this aquifer is creating concerns about possible adverse effects of increased ground-water withdrawals on the water resources of the region. A thorough understanding of the N aquifer is necessary to assess the aquifer's response to ground-water withdrawals. This study used geochemical techniques as an independent means of improving the conceptual model of ground-water flow in the N aquifer and to estimate recharge rates and hydraulic conductivity.
Ground water flows in a south-southeastward direction from the recharge area around Shonto into the confined part of the N aquifer underneath Black Mesa. Ground-water flow paths diverge in the confined part of the aquifer to the northeast and south. The N aquifer thins to extinction south of Black Mesa. This discontinuity could force ground water to diverge along paths of least resistance. Ground water discharges from the confined part of the aquifer into Laguna Creek and Moenkopi Wash and from springs southwest of Kykotsmovi and southeast of Rough Rock after a residence time of about 35,000 years or more. Recent recharge along the periphery of Black Mesa mixes with older ground water that discharges from the confined part of the aquifer and flows away from Black Mesa.
Dissolved-ion concentrations, ratios of dissolved ions, dissolved-gas concentrations, tritium, carbon-13, and chlorine-36 data indicate that water in the overlying D aquifer could be leaking into the confined part of the N aquifer in the southeastern part of Black Mesa. The boundary between the leaky and nonleaky zones is defined roughly by a line from Rough Rock to Second Mesa and separates ground waters that have significantly different chemistries. The Dakota Sandstone and Entrada Formation of the D aquifer could be the sources of leakage. Adjusted radiocarbon ground-water ages and data on isotopes of oxygen and hydrogen indicate that more than 90 percent of the water in the confined part of the N aquifer is older than 10,000 years and was recharged during glacial periods. Estimates of recharge rates made on the basis of ground-water ages, aquifer thicknesses, and assumed porosities indicate that the annual average recharge rate in the northwestern part of the study area during the glacial periods was about four times the average annual rate of the past 10,000 years, and that recharge rates for the past 10,000 years are less than modern recharge rates assumed in a previous study. Estimates of horizontal hydraulic conductivity were 0.95 and 1.16 feet per day for the northeast and southwest flow paths, respectively. These values are within the range of hydraulic conductivities calculated from aquifer tests, which ranged from 0.05 to 2.1 feet per day and averaged 0.65 foot per day.