Ground-Water Resources Program; National Research Program
Location of the Sand Hollow ground-water-recharge study area, Washington County, Utah (from figure 1).
Permeable bedrock aquifers in arid regions of the southwestern United States are being used increasingly as a source of water for rapidly growing populations, yet in many areas little is known about recharge processes and amounts available for sustainable development. Environmental tracers were used in this study to investigate infiltration and recharge to the Navajo Sandstone at Sand Hollow in the eastern Mojave Desert of southwestern Utah. Average annual precipitation is about 210 millimeters per year. Tracers included bromide, chloride, deuterium, oxygen-18, and tritium. The basin-wide average recharge rate, based on ground-water chloride mass balance, is about 8 millimeters per year, or 4 percent of precipitation. However, infiltration and recharge are highly variable spatially within Sand Hollow. Recharge primarily occurs both as focused infiltration of runoff from areas of outcropping bedrock and as direct infiltration beneath coarse surficial soils. Locations with higher rates generally have lower vadose-zone and ground-water chloride concentrations, smaller vadose-zone oxygen-18 evaporative shifts, and higher ground-water tritium concentrations. Infiltration rates estimated from vadose-zone tritium concentrations at borehole sites within Sand Hollow range from 1 to more than 57 millimeters per year; rates calculated from average vadose-zone chloride concentrations between land surface and the bottom of the chloride bulge range from 0 to 9 millimeters per year; rates calculated from average vadose-zone chloride concentrations below the chloride bulge range from 0.5 to 15 millimeters per year; and rates calculated from ground-water chloride concentrations range from 3 to 60 millimeters per year. A two-end-member deuterium-mixing model indicates that about 85 percent of ground-water recharge in Sand Hollow occurs in the 50 percent of the basin covered by coarser soils and bedrock. Vadose-zone chloride concentrations at individual boreholes represent as much as 12,000 years of accumulation, whereas vadose-zone tritium has only been accumulating during the past 50 years. Environmental tracers at Sand Hollow indicate the possibility of a cyclical recharge pattern from higher infiltration rates earlier in the Holocene to lower rates later in the Holocene, back again to higher infiltration rates during the past 50 years.
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