USGS - science for a changing world

Utah Water Science Center

Location of Snake Valley study area

Springtime in Snake Valley




USGS Water Science Centers are located in each state.

There is a USGS Water Science Center office in each State. Washington Oregon California Idaho Nevada Montana Wyoming Utah Colorado Arizona New Mexico North Dakota South Dakota Nebraska Kansas Oklahoma Texas Minnesota Iowa Missouri Arkansas Louisiana Wisconsin Illinois Mississippi Michigan Indiana Ohio Kentucky Tennessee Alabama Pennsylvania West Virginia Georgia Florida Caribbean Alaska Hawaii New York Vermont New Hampshire Maine Massachusetts South Carolina North Carolina Rhode Island Virginia Connecticut New Jersey Maryland-Delaware-D.C.

Snake Valley Groundwater

Project Team: Philip Gardner, Melissa Masbruch, Victor Heilweil, and David Susong
Cooperator: Utah Counties
Period of Project: September 2010 to September 2014


Location of Snake Valley study area

Location of Snake Valley study area.

Proposals to develop groundwater resources in Snake Valley and adjacent basins have focused attention on understanding the links between basin-fill and carbonate aquifer systems, groundwater flow paths, sources of water to springs, and the movement of groundwater between basins. This area is semi-arid and characterized by north-south trending mountain ranges and basins. There are few perennial streams that flow into the basins and these surface-water resources are fully appropriated. Groundwater resources that sustain streams, springs, wetlands, and the local agricultural economy are also limited. Additional geologic, hydrologic, and chemical information are needed assess the hydraulic connection of basin-fill and carbonate-rock aquifers with surface-water resources and water-dependent ecological features and to manage water resources in the area.


The objectives of this work are to improve the understanding of groundwater flow in both the basin-fill and carbonate aquifers, connections between the aquifers, sources of water to springs and wells in Snake Valley, and to constrain estimates of interbasin groundwater flow between adjacent basins. The intent of the work is to develop a more comprehensive hydrogeologic data set and analysis for the Snake Valley groundwater flow system without regard to state borders or specific land management agency boundaries or issues. The study will evaluate groundwater recharge and discharge quantities, recharge elevations (altitudes where water in wells and springs recharges the aquifer), groundwater travel times, and interbasin groundwater flow in and around Snake Valley. The evaluation of interbasin flow will be based on the integration of environmental tracer data, hydraulic gradients, and coupled flow/thermal numerical modeling. This will provide important baseline information for evaluating the effects of future groundwater development on spring discharge and groundwater levels. The study will be carefully coordinated with the ongoing study by the USGS Nevada Water Science Center to ensure that the results are consistent and complimentary.


Results of this study will benefit other Federal Agencies, as well as Nevada and Utah state agencies and local communities, by providing data to better quantify current hydrologic conditions in the Snake Valley area, such that knowledgeable assessments can be made of potential effects of groundwater withdrawals on ground and surface-water resources. This study is aligned with the USGS science strategy goal for developing a water census of the United States to inform the public and decision makers about the status of freshwater resources by quantifying, forecasting, and securing freshwater for America’s future (U.S. Geological Survey, 2007).


USGS employee monitoring field parameters prior to sampling a flowing well near the southern Snake Range, Nevada

USGS employee monitoring field parameters prior to sampling a flowing well near the southern Snake Range, Nevada.

The generalized approach of the study was to use water levels to develop a more detailed potentiometric surface for the study area. From this map, groundwater flow directions were derived. These data were combined with results of environmental tracer sampling and analysis to assess groundwater recharge source areas, groundwater travel times, and flow paths. Inter-basin flow was evaluated using these results with coupled groundwater flow/thermal modeling. Groundwater levels and withdrawals, spring discharge, and geochemical data were collected to establish a baseline dataset for use in this study.


Products related to this project are listed below including  USGS Scientific Investigations Map Report showing both a water-level map for Snake Valley and surrounding areas and hydrographs showing historical changes in ground-water levels from as the 1950s to the present. Other results of the study are documented in a scientific journal article and USGS Scientific Investigations Report.  Data collected as part of the study is permanently archived in the USGS NWIS database where it is available to the public via the Internet.  Numerical models developed by the USGS are also archived and available to the public.

Preliminary contours of groundwater-level surface altitude in Snake Valley and surrounding basins in eastern Nevada and Western Utah with arrows indicating general directions of groundwater movement

Preliminary contours of groundwater-level surface altitude in Snake Valley and surrounding basins in eastern Nevada and western Utah with arrows indicating general directions of groundwater movement.

Gardner, Philip M., Masbruch, Melissa D., Plume, Russell W., and Buto, Susan G., 2011, Regional potentiometric-surface map of the Great Basin carbonate and alluvial aquifer system in Snake Valley and surrounding areas, Juab and Millard, and Beaver Counties, Utah, and White Pine and Lincoln Counties, Nevada: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Map 3193. Available online at

Gardner, Philip M., and Heilweil, Victor M., 2014, A multiple-tracer approach to understanding regional groundwater flow in the Snake Valley area of the eastern Great Basin, USA: Applied Geochemistry, v. 45. Available online at

Masbruch, Melissa, Gardner, Philip M., and Brooks, Lynette 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.

USGS Home Water Climate Change Core Science Ecosystems Energy and Minerals Env. Health Hazards

Accessibility FOIA Privacy Policies and Notices logo U.S. Department of the Interior | U.S. Geological Survey
Page Contact Information: Utah WSC Webmaster
Page Last Modified: Wednesday, 04-Jun-2014 10:47:44 EDT