Report Abstract


By George T. Basabilvazo

This report describes the occurrence, availability, and quality of ground-water and related surface-water resources in Catron County, the largest county in New Mexico. The county is located in the Lower Colorado River Basin and the Rio Grande Basin, and the Continental Divide is the boundary between the two river basins. Increases in water used for mining activities (coal, mineral, and geothermal), irrigated agriculture, reservoir construction, or domestic purposes could affect the quantity or quality of ground- water and surface-water resources in the county.

Parts of seven major drainage basins are within the two regional river basins in the county--Carrizo Wash, North Plains, Rio Salado, San Agustin, Alamosa Creek, Gila, and San Francisco Basins. The San Francisco, Gila, and Tularosa Rivers typically flow perennially. During periods of low flow, most streamflow is derived from baseflow. The stream channels of the Rio Salado and Carrizo Wash Basins are commonly perennial in their upper reaches and ephemeral in their lower reaches. Largo Creek in the Carrizo Wash Basin is perennial downstream from Quemado Lake and ephemeral in the lower reaches.

Aquifers in Catron County include Quaternary alluvium and bolson fill; Quaternary to Tertiary Gila Conglomerate; Tertiary Bearwallow Mountain Andesite, Datil Group, and Baca Formation; Cretaceous Mesaverde Group, Crevasse Canyon Formation, Gallup Sandstone, Mancos Shale, and Dakota Sandstone; Triassic Chinle Formation; and undifferentiated rocks of Permian age. Water in the aquifers in the county generally is unconfined; however, confined conditions may exist where the aquifers are overlain by other units of lower permeability.

Yields of ground water from the Quaternary alluvium in the county range from 1 to 375 gallons per minute. Yields of ground water from the alluvium in the Carrizo Wash Basin are as much as 250 gallons per minute for short time periods. North of the Plains of San Agustin, ground-water yields from the alluvium in the San Agustin Basin range from 1 to 10 gallons per minute.

Irrigation wells completed in the Quaternary bolson fill produce as much as 975 gallons per minute immediately east of the county. Water from the bolson fill in the Plains of San Agustin has specific-conductance values generally ranging from 180 to 3,300 microsiemens per centimeter at 25 degrees Celsius (microsiemens/cm).

Yields from the Gila Conglomerate generally range from 2 to 5 gallons per minute. Water samples from two springs from the Gila Conglomerate have specific conductances of 289 and 381 microsiemens/cm.

The Tertiary Datil Group is present in the Carrizo Wash, San Agustin, San Francisco, and Gila Basins. The Datil Group commonly is unconfined, but may be confined at depth. Water levels of wells completed in this unit range from 60 to 1,260 feet below land surface. Wells completed in the Datil Group typically yield 1 to 15 gallons per minute. Specific conductance of water from the Datil Group ranges from 210 to 820 microsiemens/cm. The Tertiary Baca Formation in the Carrizo Wash Basin produces 5 to 20 gallons per minute in stock wells. Water from wells completed in the Baca Formation has specific-conductance values ranging from 312 to 752 microsiemens/cm.

Aquifers in Cretaceous rocks are present in the Carrizo Wash, North Plains, and Rio Salado Basins. The potential yield from wells completed in Cretaceous rocks in northwestern Catron County is from 1 to 122 gallons per minute. Specific conductance of water from Cretaceous rocks ranges from 210 microsiemens/cm in the Moreno Hill Formation to 4,490 microsiemens/cm in the Mancos Shale. Yields of ground water from Cretaceous rocks in the Carrizo Wash Basin typically range from 1 to 100 gallons per minute; in an artesian well, however, the yield in the main body of the Cretaceous Dakota Sandstone during an aquifer test was 350 gallons per minute. Ground-water yields from the Cretaceous Crevasse Canyon Formation in the North Plains Basin range from 0.5 to 1.5 gallons per minute. Specific conductance of water from the Mesaverde Group, Crevasse Canyon Formation, Mancos Shale and intertongued Dakota Sandstone, and the main body of the Dakota Sandstone ranges from 370 to 4,370; 1,200 to 2,500; 980 to 4,490; and 500 to 980 microsiemens/cm, respectively.

Yields of ground water from two wells completed in Permian rocks in the Carrizo Wash Basin are 12 and 80 gallons per minute. Water from Permian and Triassic sedimentary rocks has specific- conductance values generally ranging from 1,300 microsiemens/cm in the Permian San Andres Limestone and/or Glorieta Sandstone to 3,460 microsiemens/ cm in the Triassic Chinle Formation.

In Catron County, the total ground and surface water withdrawn was about 21,000 acre-feet in 1990, of which the primary use was for irrigated agriculture. In 1990, ground- and surface-water withdrawals for irrigated agriculture were 20,022 acre-feet or 95.5 percent of the total withdrawals in the county. The principal irrigated areas are along the San Francisco River, near Quemado, and in the Plains of San Agustin. About 87 percent of the water used in the county in 1990 was surface water. Surface water in the county is used for irrigated agriculture, livestock, and commercial purposes. The San Francisco, Gila, and Tularosa Rivers are the major source for almost all surface water diverted for irrigation, livestock watering, and commercial purposes. Ground water in the county is used for irrigated agriculture, mining, public water supply, domestic, livestock, commercial, and industrial purposes.

Geothermal areas are sparsely distributed throughout Catron County. They are located but are not restricted to areas (1) along the San Francisco River in the southwest part of the county, (2) along the headwaters of the Gila River and in the forks of the upper reaches in the southeast part of the county, (3) around the Plains of San Agustin in the east-central part of the county, and (4) northwest of the community of Quemado in the northwest part of the county. In geothermal areas, elevated water temperatures are probably related to high heat flow from shallow magma bodies and ground-water circulation through highly fractured, faulted, and permeable rocks near the heat source.

Abstract from Water-Resources Investigations Report 96-4258



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