Solute geochemistry of the Snake River plain regional aquifer system, Idaho and eastern Oregon

Professional Paper 1408-D
By:  and 



Four geochemical approaches were used to determine chemical reactions controlling solute concentrations in the Snake River Plain regional aquifer system: (1) calculation of a solute balance within the aquifer, (2) identification of weathered products in the aquifer frame- work, (3) comparison of thermodynamic mineral saturation indices with plausible solute reactions, and (4) comparison of stable-isotope ratios of the solutes with those in the aquifer framework. Solutes in the geo- thermal groundwater system underlying the main aquifer were examined by calculating thermodynamic mineral saturation indices, stable-isotope ratios, geothermometry, and radiocarbon dating. Water budgets, hydrologic arguments, and isotopic analyses for the eastern Snake River Plain aquifer system demonstrate that most, if not all, water is of local meteoric and not juvenile or formation origin. Thus, the solutes must also originate within the basin. Solute balance, isotopic, mineralogic, and thermodynamic arguments suggest that about 20 per- cent of the solutes leaving the basin are derived from reactions with rocks forming the aquifer framework. Most of the remaining solutes are introduced from tributary drainage basins. Mass-balance calculations, thermodynamic arguments, and petro- graphic observations indicate that calcite and silica are precipitated in the aquifer. Petrographic evidence and thermodynamic arguments sug- gest that olivine, pyroxene, plagioclase, pyrite, and anhydrite are being weathered from the aquifer framework. Large amounts of sodium, chloride, and sulfate, relative to their concentration in the igneous rock, are being removed from the aquifer. Release of fluids from inclusions in the igneous rocks and initial flushing of grain boundaries and pores of detrital marine sediments in interbeds are believed to be a major source of these solutes. Identification and quantification of reactions controlling solute concentrations in ground water in the eastern plain indicate that the aquifer is not a large mixing vessel that simply stores and transmits water and solutes but is undergoing diagenesis and is both a source and a sink for solutes. Evaluation of solute concentrations and stable-isotope ratios of hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, and sulfur along groundwater flowpaths that transect irrigated areas suggests that irrigation water may have altered solute concentrations and isotope ratios in the eastern Snake River Plain aquifer system. The changes, however, have been small because of the similarity of solute concentrations and ratios in applied irrigation water and in native ground water, and because of rapid movement and large dispersivity of the aquifer. Reactions controlling solutes in the western Snake River basin are believed to be similar to those in the eastern basin but, because of dif- ferent hydrologic conditions, a definitive analysis could not be made. The regional geothermal system that underlies the Snake River Plain contains total dissolved solids similar to those in the overlying Snake River Plain aquifer system but contains higher concentrations of sodium, bicarbonate, silica, fluoride, sulfate, chloride, arsenic, boron, and lithium, and lower concentrations of calcium, magnesium, and hydrogen. These solutes are believed to be derived from reactions similar to those in the Snake River Plain aquifer system, except that ion exchange and hydrol- ysis play a role in controlling solute concentrations in the geothermal system. Geothermometry calculations of selected ground-water samples from known geothermal areas throughout the basin suggest that the geother- mal system is large in areal extent but has relatively low temperatures. Approximately half of the silica-quartz calculated water temperatures are greater than 90 °C. Radiocarbon dating of geothermal water in the Salmon Falls and Bruneau-Grand View areas in the south central part of the Snake River basin suggests that residence time of the geother- mal water is about 17,700 years.

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Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Solute geochemistry of the Snake River plain regional aquifer system, Idaho and eastern Oregon
Series title Professional Paper
Series number 1408
Chapter D
DOI 10.3133/pp1408D
Year Published 1988
Language English
Publisher U.S. Government Printing Office
Contributing office(s) Idaho Water Science Center
Description vi, 79 p.
Country United States
State Idaho;Oregon
Other Geospatial Snake River Plain
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