Major Aquifers of Utah

Related to the physiographic provinces of Utah, the major aquifers in Utah are characterized by the unique geologic conditions of each province. The three aquifer areas in Utah are the Colorado Plateau, Basin and Range, and the Central Mountains.

Colorado Plateau

The Colorado Plateau aquifers underlie a broad area of regional uplift in southeastern and south-central Utah. They are characterized by essentially flat-lying Mesozoic and Paleozoic sedimentary rocks, the age of which ranges from 541 to 66 million years old. The rocks are flat-lying in most places due to a lack of major faulting and folding in most of the region. The aquifers vary in rock type, degree of cementation, and hydraulic characteristics.

Uplift of the Colorado Plateau has caused the Green River to entrench its meandering path into the relatively soft rocks of the Permian-age Organ Rock Shale. At Soda Springs Basin, vertical cliffs of the more-resistant White Rim Sandstone cap the Organ Rock Shale 400 feet above the river. Canyonlands National Park, San Juan and Wayne Counties, Utah Photographer: Rich Emerson; © 2012

Uplift of the Colorado Plateau has caused the Green River to entrench its meandering path into the relatively soft rocks of the Permian-age Organ Rock Shale. At Soda Springs Basin, vertical cliffs of the more-resistant White Rim Sandstone cap the Organ Rock Shale 400 feet above the river.

Primary porosity (i.e., space between sand grains, vesicles in volcanic rocks; see Groundwater and Aquifers) is often low due to compaction and cementation during consolidation, so secondary porosity (i.e., joints, fractures, and bedding planes) transmits the majority of groundwater flow. Aquifers of the Colorado Plateau are often interbedded with relatively impermeable fine-grained rocks like shale or siltstone, causing confined conditions. In confined conditions, the water is under pressure so that the water level in a sealed well would rise above the top of the aquifer layer.

Water quality and quantity vary considerably in aquifers of the Colorado Plateau, but most areas are underlain by aquifers containing water sufficient for domestic and agricultural use.

Basin and Range

The Basin and Range region of western Utah has numerous north-south-oriented, fault-tilted mountain ranges separated by broad, sediment-filled basins. Two types of aquifers are present in the Basin and Range: alluvial aquifers and bedrock aquifers.

Leland-Harris Spring complex in the Snake Valley of western Utah. These groundwater-fed springs support dense stands of hard-stem bulrush, chairmaker’s bulrush, and saltgrass that provide habitat for several state-sensitive species. Although more stable than surface water-fed wetlands, water levels in these wetlands and other similar groundwater-fed wetlands in the west desert can fluctuate seasonally and annually with drought.

Alluvial aquifers are the primary aquifers in the Basin and Range and are found in thick deposits of mostly late Cenozoic basin fill (17 million years old to present day) between the mountain ranges. The basin fill consists of unconsolidated to moderately consolidated, well to poorly sorted gravel, sand, silt, and clay.

Mesozoic and Paleozoic sedimentary rocks (ranging from 541 to 66 million years old) and their metamorphic equivalents are present in the mountain ranges and beneath the basin fill.

Carbonate (limestone and dolomite) aquifers exist in the mountain ranges and basins where consolidated carbonate rock has undergone enough fracturing and dissolution to allow groundwater flow.

Central Mountains

Stewart Falls and the eastern slopes of Mount Timpanogos, Wasatch Range, Utah County. Mount Timpanogos, Wasatch Range, Utah County, Utah Photographer: Elizabeth Firmage; © 2015

Stewart Falls and the eastern slopes of Mount Timpanogos, Wasatch Range, Utah County.

The Central Mountains region of northeastern and central Utah consists of mountainous terrain, stream valleys, and alluvial basins. It includes the north-south-trending Wasatch Range, composed mainly of pre-Cenozoic sedimentary and Cenozoic silicic plutonic rocks, and the east-west-trending Uinta Mountains, composed mainly of Precambrian sedimentary and metamorphic rocks (541 million years old and older).

Alluvial aquifers from rivers and floodplains occur throughout the Central Mountains region in thin deposits of Quaternary-age valley fill, like Ogden Valley and Round Valley. Aquifers are also present in sedimentary rocks (i.e., limestone and sandstone), although less commonly.

Highlighted Scientific Publications

Report of Investigation 282

Time Series Analyses of a Great Basin Groundwater-Fed Wetland Complex, Juab County, Utah: Climate Effects on Groundwater-Dependent Wetlands

Special Study 165

Characterization of the Groundwater System in Ogden Valley, Weber County, Utah, with Emphasis on Groundwater–Surface-Water Interaction and the Groundwater Budget



Public Interest Articles

Search:
TitleTopicYear
The Utah Flux Network Groundwater 2022
Groundwater Monitoring Well Installation at Sevenmile Canyon Near Arches National Park Groundwater Monitoring 2021
The Role of Water Quality and Quantity on Future Development Near Bryce Canyon National Park Groundwater 2021
An In-depth Look at Ogden Valley's Groundwater Groundwater 2020
Crystal Geyser, Grand County Water 2018
Does Utah really use more water than any other state? Water 2018
Monroe’s “Sweet” Groundwater Points to Contamination Source Water 2018
Monitoring Groundwater Response to Large-Scale Juniper Treatments Water 2018
UGS’s Role in Contributing Water-Quality Data to the National Ground-Water Monitoring Network Groundwater 2017
Deep Nitrate in an Alluvial Valley: Potential Mechanisms for Transport Groundwater 2015
Roosevelt Hot Springs Geothermal Area, Beaver County Water 2014
UGS Groundwater & Spring Flow Monitoring in Snake Valley Groundwater 2014
Using Aquifers for Water Storage in Cache Valley Water 2013
Establishing Baseline Water Quality in the Southeastern Uinta Basin Water 2013
Gandy Warm Springs, Millard County Water 2013
What do environmental tracers tell us about groundwater in Snake Valley? Groundwater 2011
Modeling Ground-Water Flow in Cedar Valley Groundwater 2010
Utah Geological Survey’s West Desert Ground-Water Monitoring Network: Progress Report Groundwater 2010
Unusually High Nitrate Concentrations in Southern Sanpete County’s Ground Water Groundwater 2009
Cascade Springs, Wasatch County Water 2008
Geothermal Energy Development in Utah Geothermal Energy 2008
Ground-Water Monitoring in Utah’s West Desert Groundwater 2007
Proposed Ground-water Withdrawal in Snake Valley Groundwater 2006
Groundwater Water 2006
Pilot Project Shows Promise for Aquifer Storage and Recovery Groundwater 2005
The Midway Hot Pots – Natural Hot Springs, Wasatch County Water 2004
New Aquifer Storage and Recovery Project, Ogden Area Groundwater 2003
Cache Valley sensitivity and vulnerability to pesticides Groundwater 2002
Hydrologic Cycle Specific to Utah Water 1999
Do I have to travel all the way to Yellowstone, or can I see beautiful hot springs here in Utah? Water 1998
Thermal Springs in Utah Water 1995

Groundwater Articles: 31