Publication - Scientific Investigations Report
U.S. Department of the Interior
U.S. Geological Survey
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Carbon County is located in the south-central part of Wyoming and is the third largest county in the State. A study to describe the physical and chemical characteristics of surface-water and ground-water resources in Carbon County was conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey in cooperation with the Wyoming State Engineer’s Office. Evaluations of streamflow and stream-water quality were limited to analyses of historical data and descriptions of previous investigations. Surface-water data were not collected as part of the study. Forty-five ground-water-quality samples were collected as part of the study and the results from an additional 618 historical ground-water-quality samples were reviewed. Available hydrogeologic characteristics for various aquifers in hydrogeologic units throughout the county also are described.
Flow characteristics of streams in Carbon County vary substantially depending on regional and local basin characteristics and anthropogenic factors. Precipitation in the county is variable with high mountainous areas receiving several times the annual precipitation of basin lowland areas. For this reason, streams with headwaters in mountainous areas generally are perennial, whereas most streams in the county with headwaters in basin lowland areas are ephemeral, flowing only as a result of regional or local rainfall or snowmelt runoff. Flow characteristics of most perennial streams are altered substantially by diversions and regulation.
Water-quality characteristics of selected streams in and near Carbon County during water years 1966 through 1986 varied. Concentrations of dissolved constituents and suspended sediment were smallest at sites on streams with headwaters in mountainous areas because of resistant geologic units, large diluting streamflows, and increased vegetative cover compared to sites on streams with headwaters in basin lowlands.
Both water-table and artesian conditions occur in aquifers within the county. Shallow ground water is available throughout the county, although much of it is only marginally suitable or is unsuitable for domestic and irrigation uses mainly because of high total dissolved solids (TDS) concentrations. Suitable ground water for livestock use is available in most areas of the county. Ground-water quality tends to deteriorate with increasing distance from recharge areas and with increasing depth below land surface. Ground water from depths greater than a few thousand feet tends to have TDS concentrations that make it moderately saline to briny. In some areas, even shallow ground water is moderately saline. Specific constituents in parts of some aquifers in the county occur in relatively high concentrations when compared to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency drinking-water standards; for example, relatively high concentrations of sulfate, chloride, fluoride, boron, iron, manganese, and radon were found in several aquifers.
The estimated mean daily water use in Carbon County in 2000 was about 320 million gallons per day. Water used for irrigation accounted for about 98 percent of this total. About 98 percent of the total water used was supplied by surface water and about 2 percent by ground water. Excluding irrigation, ground water comprised about 78 percent of total water use in Carbon County. Although ground water is used to a much lesser extent than surface water, in many areas of the county it is the only available water source.