Abstract

Expansion of the Denver metropolitan area has resulted in substantial residential development in the foothills of the Rocky Mountain Front Range. This type of suburban growth, characteristic of much of the semiarid intermountain west, often relies on groundwater from individual domestic wells and is exemplified in the Turkey Creek watershed. The watershed is underlain by complexly deformed and fractured crystalline bedrock in which groundwater resources are poorly understood, and concerns regarding groundwater mining and degradation have arisen. As part of a pilot project to establish quantitative bounds on the groundwater resource, an outcrop-based geologic characterization and numerical modeling study of the brittle structures and their controls on the flow system was initiated. Existing data suggest that groundwater storage, flow, and contaminant transport are primarily controlled by a heterogeneous array of fracture networks. Inspections of well-permit data and field observations led to a conceptual model in which three dominant lithologic groups underlying sparse surface deposits form the aquifer system—metamorphic rocks, a complex array of granitic intrusive rocks, and major brittle fault zones. Pervasive but variable jointing of each lithologic group forms the “background” permeability structure and is an important component of the bulk storage capacity. This “background” is cut by brittle fault zones of varying structural styles and by pegmatite dikes, both with much higher fracture intensities relative to “background” that likely make them spatially complex conduits. Probabilistic, discrete-fracture-network and finite-element modeling was used to estimate porosity and permeability at the outcrop scale using fracture network data collected in the field. The models were conditioned to limited aquifer test and borehole geophysical data and give insight into the relative hydraulic properties between locations and geologic controls on storage and flow. Results from this study reveal a complex aquifer system in which the upper limits on estimated hydraulic properties suggest limited storage capacity and permeability as compared with many sedimentary-rock and surficial-deposit aquifers.

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