Hydrology and Simulation of Ground-Water Flow in Cedar Valley, Iron County, Utah

Lynette E. Brooks
James L. Mason
U.S. Geological Survey
Central Iron County Water Conservancy District
Utah Department of Natural Resources, Division of Water Resources
Utah Department of Environmental Quality, Division of Water Quality
U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Department of the Interior
Cedar City, Cedar City
City of Enoch, City of Enoch

Scientific Investigations Report 2005-5170


Cedar Valley, located in the eastern part of Iron County in southwestern Utah, is experiencing rapid population growth. Cedar Valley traditionally has supported agriculture, but the growing population needs a larger share of the available water resources. Water withdrawn from the unconsolidated basin fill is the primary source for public supply and is a major source of water for irrigation. Water managers are concerned about increasing demands on the water supply and need hydrologic information to manage this limited water resource and minimize flow of water unsuitable for domestic use toward present and future public-supply sources. Surface water in the study area is derived primarily from snowmelt at higher altitudes east of the study area or from occasional large thunderstorms during the summer. Coal Creek, a perennial stream with an average annual discharge of 24,200 acre-feet per year, is the largest stream in Cedar Valley. Typically, all of the water in Coal Creek is diverted for irrigation during the summer months. All surface water is consumed within the basin by irrigated crops, evapotranspiration, or recharge to the ground-water system. Ground water in Cedar Valley generally moves from primary recharge areas along the eastern margin of the basin where Coal Creek enters, to areas of discharge or subsurface outflow. Recharge to the unconsolidated basin-fill aquifer is by seepage of unconsumed irrigation water, streams, direct precipitation on the unconsolidated basin fill, and subsurface inflow from consolidated rock and Parowan Valley and is estimated to be about 42,000 acre-feet per year. Stable-isotope data indicate that recharge is primarily from winter precipitation. The chloride mass-balance method indicates that recharge may be less than 42,000 acre-feet per year, but is considered a rough approximation because of limited chloride concentration data for precipitation and Coal Creek. Continued declining water levels indicate that recharge is not sufficient to meet demand. Water levels in many areas are at or close to historic lows. In 2000, withdrawal from wells was estimated to be 36,000 acre-feet per year. About 4,000 acre-feet per year are estimated to discharge to evapotranspiration or as subsurface outflow. Prior to large-scale ground-water development, ground-water discharge by evapotranspiration and discharge to springs was much larger. Ground water along the eastern margin of the valley between Cedar City and Enoch is unsuitable for domestic use because of high dissolved-solids and nitrate concentrations. The predominant ions of calcium and sulfate in this area indicate dissolution of gypsum in the Markagunt Plateau to the east. Data collected during this study were compared to historic data; there is no evidence to indicate deterioration in ground-water quality. The spatial distribution of ground water with high nitrate concentration does not appear to be migrating beyond its previously known extent. No single source can be identified as the cause for elevated nitrate concentrations in ground water. Low nitrogen-15 values north of Cedar City indicate a natural geologic source. Higher nitrogen-15 values toward the center of the basin and associated hydrologic data indicate probable recharge from waste-water effluent. Excess dissolved nitrogen gas and low nitrate concentrations in shallow ground water indicate that denitrification is occurring in some areas. A computer ground-water flow model was developed to simulate flow in the unconsolidated basin fill. The method of determining recharge from irrigation was changed during the calibration process to incorporate more areal and temporal variability. In general, the model accurately simulates water levels and water-level fluctuations and can be considered an adequate tool to help determine the valley-wide effects on water levels of additional ground-water withdrawals and changes in water use. The model was used to simulate water-level changes caused by projecting current withdrawal rates, increased withdrawal rates, and a 10-year drought. Water levels declined 20 to 275 feet in the southern and central parts of the valley and less than 20 feet north of Enoch.