Water Resources Inventory of the Las Cienegas National Conservation Area, Southeastern Arizona

Scientific Investigations Report 2023-5131
Prepared in cooperation with the Bureau of Land Management



The Las Cienegas National Conservation Area was established by the Las Cienegas National Conservation Area Establishment Act of 1999 (Public Law 106–538) and is managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Located in southeastern Arizona, the conservation area contains more than 45,000 acres of rolling grassland, wetlands, and woodlands surrounded by isolated mountain ranges that are part of the Madrean archipelago. This report describes the surface-water and groundwater resources within, and hydrologically connected to, the conservation area.

Two primary aquifers have been identified within the Las Cienegas National Conservation Area: a Quaternary alluvial aquifer and a Miocene to Pliocene basin-fill aquifer. The Quaternary alluvial aquifer consists of Quaternary saturated stream alluvium along Cienega Creek and its major tributaries. This aquifer provides the water necessary for base flow in the perennial stream reaches that support aquatic life and for wetland and riparian habitat along the stream courses. Wells and piezometers completed in the Quaternary alluvial aquifer show both seasonal and daily water-level fluctuation patterns, as well as responses to flood flows in Cienega Creek. The basin-fill aquifer, in contrast, consists chiefly of Miocene to Pliocene alluvium within a sedimentary basin that is at least 4,800 feet deep. This aquifer is developed for anthropogenic uses more often than the Quaternary alluvial aquifer is developed. Generally, water levels in wells completed in the basin-fill aquifer have gradually declined a few feet between 2011, when measurements began, and 2022, when this report was written. Most water-chemistry samples available from the basin-fill aquifer had either a sodium-bicarbonate or calcium-bicarbonate water type. Previous research has shown that most recharge to the basin-fill aquifer likely comes from mountain-front and mountain-block recharge. Research further shows that this aquifer likely provides most of the recharge to the Quaternary alluvial aquifer. Because no production wells completed in bedrock exist within the conservation area, little is known about the hydraulic properties of the bedrock therein, but usable quantities of water can likely be produced from places where the bedrock has highly developed joint or fracture systems.

During 2006–2021, the average combined length of measured perennial stream reaches within the main part of the Las Cienegas National Conservation Area was 6.35 miles. The average annual base flow of Cienega Creek during 2002–2021, estimated with the Standard Base-Flow Index method using data from a streamgage within the conservation area, was 0.62 cubic feet per second. Monthly mean streamflow measured at this streamgage for the same period ranged from a low of 0.29 cubic feet per second (in June) to a high of 9.8 cubic feet per second (in July). The July average is heavily influenced by a flood that occurred in July 2021; the median July streamflow for 2002–2021 is just 0.84 cubic feet per second. Periods with no daily flow are not uncommon at this gage during late May and June.

Suggested Citation

Mason, J.P., 2024, Water resources inventory of the Las Cienegas National Conservation Area, southeastern Arizona: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2023–5131, 31 p., https://doi.org/10.3133/sir20235131.

ISSN: 2328-0328 (online)

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgments
  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Description of Study Area
  • Water Resources
  • Summary
  • References Cited
Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Water resources inventory of the Las Cienegas National Conservation Area, southeastern Arizona
Series title Scientific Investigations Report
Series number 2023-5131
DOI 10.3133/sir20235131
Year Published 2024
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Arizona Water Science Center
Description vii, 31 p.
Country United States
State Arizona
Other Geospatial Las Cienegas National Conservation Area
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details