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Scientific Investigations Report 2014-5103

Prepared in cooperation with Juab, Millard, Salt Lake, Tooele, and Utah Counties

Hydrology and Numerical Simulation of Groundwater Movement and Heat Transport in Snake Valley and Surrounding Areas, Juab, Millard, and Beaver Counties, Utah, and White Pine and Lincoln Counties, Nevada

By Melissa D. Masbruch, Philip M. Gardner, and Lynette E. Brooks

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (6.6 MB)Abstract

Snake Valley and surrounding areas, along the Utah-Nevada state border, are part of the Great Basin carbonate and alluvial aquifer system. The groundwater system in the study area consists of water in unconsolidated deposits in basins and water in consolidated rock underlying the basins and in the adjacent mountain blocks. Most recharge occurs from precipitation on the mountain blocks and most discharge occurs from the lower altitude basin-fill deposits mainly as evapotranspiration, springflow, and well withdrawals.

The Snake Valley area regional groundwater system was simulated using a three-dimensional model incorporating both groundwater flow and heat transport. The model was constructed with MODFLOW-2000, a version of the U.S. Geological Survey’s groundwater flow model, and MT3DMS, a transport model that simulates advection, dispersion, and chemical reactions of solutes or heat in groundwater systems. Observations of groundwater discharge by evapotranspiration, springflow, mountain stream base flow, and well withdrawals; groundwater-level altitudes; and groundwater temperatures were used to calibrate the model. Parameter values estimated by regression analyses were reasonable and within the range of expected values.

This study represents one of the first regional modeling efforts to include calibration to groundwater temperature data. The inclusion of temperature observations reduced parameter uncertainty, in some cases quite significantly, over using just water-level altitude and discharge observations. Of the 39 parameters used to simulate horizontal hydraulic conductivity, uncertainty on 11 of these parameters was reduced to one order of magnitude or less. Other significant reductions in parameter uncertainty occurred in parameters representing the vertical anisotropy ratio, drain and river conductance, recharge rates, and well withdrawal rates.

The model provides a good representation of the groundwater system. Simulated water-level altitudes range over almost 2,000 meters (m); 98 percent of the simulated values of water-level altitudes in wells are within 30 m of observed water-level altitudes, and 58 percent of them are within 12 m. Nineteen of 20 simulated discharges are within 30 percent of observed discharge. Eighty-one percent of the simulated values of groundwater temperatures in wells are within 2 degrees Celsius (°C) of the observed values, and 55 percent of them are within 0.75 °C. The numerical model represents a more robust quantification of groundwater budget components than previous studies because the model integrates all components of the groundwater budget. The model also incorporates new data including (1) a detailed hydrogeologic framework, and (2) more observations, including several new water-level altitudes throughout the study area, several new measurements of spring discharge within Snake Valley which had not previously been monitored, and groundwater temperature data. Uncertainty in the estimates of subsurface flow are less than those of previous studies because the model balanced recharge and discharge across the entire simulated area, not just in each hydrographic area, and because of the large dataset of observations (water-level altitudes, discharge, and temperatures) used to calibrate the model and the resulting transmissivity distribution.

Groundwater recharge from precipitation and unconsumed irrigation in Snake Valley is 160,000 acre-feet per year (acre-ft/yr), which is within the range of previous estimates. Subsurface inflow from southern Spring Valley to southern Snake Valley is 13,000 acre-ft/yr and is within the range of previous estimates; subsurface inflow from Spring Valley to Snake Valley north of the Snake Range, however, is only 2,200 acre-ft/yr, which is much less than has been previously estimated. Groundwater discharge from groundwater evapotranspiration and springs is 100,000 acre-ft/yr, and discharge to mountain streams is 3,300 acre-ft/yr; these are within the range of previous estimates. Current well withdrawals are 28,000 acre-ft/yr. Subsurface outflow from Snake Valley moves into Pine Valley (2,000 acre-ft/yr), Wah Wah Valley (23 acre-ft/yr), Tule Valley (33,000 acre-ft/yr), Fish Springs Flat (790 acre-ft/yr), and outside of the study area towards Great Salt Lake Desert (8,400 acre-ft/yr); these outflows, totaling about 44,000 acre-ft/yr, are within the range of previous estimates.

The subsurface flow amounts indicate the degree of connectivity between hydrographic areas within the study area. The simulated transmissivity and locations of natural discharge, however, provide a better estimate of the effect of groundwater withdrawals on groundwater resources than does the amount and direction of subsurface flow between hydrographic areas. The distribution of simulated transmissivity throughout the study area includes many areas of high transmissivity within and between hydrographic areas. Increased well withdrawals within these high transmissivity areas will likely affect a large part of the study area, resulting in declining groundwater levels, as well as leading to a decrease in natural discharge to springs and evapotranspiration.

First posted August 27, 2014

For additional information, contact:
Director, Utah Water Science Center
U.S. Geological Survey
2329 Orton Circle
Salt Lake City, Utah 84119

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Suggested citation:

Masbruch, M.D., Gardner, P.M., and Brooks, L.E., 2014, Hydrology and numerical simulation of groundwater movement and heat transport in Snake Valley and surrounding areas, Juab, Millard, and Beaver Counties, Utah, and White Pine and Lincoln Counties, Nevada: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2014-5103, 108 p.,

ISSN 2328-0328 (online)




Previous Studies

Hydrogeologic Setting

Numerical Simulation of Groundwater Flow and Heat Transport


References Cited

Appendix 1

Appendix 2

Appendix 3

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