Pre- and Post-Reservoir Ground-Water Conditions and Assessment of Artificial Recharge at Sand Hollow, Washington County, Utah, 1995-2005

V. M. Heilweil
D. D. Susong
P. M. Gardner
D. E. Watt
United States Geological Survey
Washington County Water Conservancy District, Bureau of Reclamation
University of Utah Department of Geology and Geophysics
U.S. Department of the Interior

Scientific Investigations Report 2005-5185


Sand Hollow, Utah, is the site of a surface-water reservoir completed in March 2002, which is being operated by the Washington County Water Conservancy District. The reservoir is an off-channel facility receiving water from the Virgin River, diverted near the town of Virgin, Utah. It is being operated conjunctively, providing both surface-water storage and artificial recharge to the underlying Navajo aquifer. The U.S. Geological Survey and the Bureau of Reclamation conducted a study to document baseline ground-water conditions at Sand Hollow prior to the operation of the reservoir and to evaluate changes in ground-water conditions caused by the reservoir. Pre-reservoir age dating using tritium/helium, chlorofluorocarbons, and carbon-14 shows that shallow ground water in the Navajo Sandstone in some highinfilration areas of Sand Hollow entered the aquifer from 2 to 25 years before sample collection. Ground water in low-infiltration areas and deeper within the aquifer may have entered the aquifer more than 8,000 years ago. Ground-water levels in the immediate vicinity of Sand Hollow Reservoir have risen by as much as 80 feet since initial filling began in March 2002. In 2005, ground water was moving laterally away from the reservoir in all directions, whereas the pre-reservoir direction of groundwater flow was predominantly toward the north. Tracers, or attributes, of artificial recharge include higher specific conductance, higher dissolved-solids concentrations, higher chloride-to-bromide ratios, moredepleted stable isotopes (δ2H and δ18O), and higher totaldissolved gas pressures. These tracers have been detected at observation and production wells close to the reservoir. About 15,000 tons of naturally occurring salts that previously accumulated in the vadose zone beneath the reservoir are being flushed into the aquifer. Except for the shallowest parts of the aquifer, this is generally not affecting water quality, largely because of the large saturated thickness of the Navajo aquifer. Since the initial filling of Sand Hollow Reservoir, arsenic concentrations have risen to exceed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards in some shallow observation wells. These increases in arsenic concentration are likely caused by increasing pH associated with artificial recharge beneath the reservoir, rather than flushing of previously accumulated salts in the vadose zone. There has been no trend of increasing arsenic concentration in deeper production wells. Estimated evaporation rates for Sand Hollow Reservoir, calculated by the Jensen-Haise method with data from the Sand Hollow weather station, range from about 55 to 61 inches per year and result in a total evaporative loss of about 6,000 acre-feet of water from March 2002 to September 2004. Rates of artificial recharge of ground water beneath Sand Hollow Reservoir have ranged from about 0.02 to 0.44 feet per day, with an average rate excluding the initial 3-month wetting period of about 0.06 feet per day. A total of about 28,000 acrefeet of recharge to the underlying Navajo aquifer occurred from March 2002 to September 2004.