We present a new conceptual model of groundwater flow that describes active and inactive groundwater flow regimes. The model is based on an analysis of interactions between surface water and shallow and deep groundwater in the 240-km-long Wasatch Range and Book Cliffs, Utah, USA. Active zone groundwater flow paths are continuous, responsive to annual recharge and climatic variability, and have groundwater resident times “ages” that become progressively older from recharge to discharge area. Active zone groundwater systems discharge at thousands of springs that issue from the 700+-m-thick, gently dipping, clastic bedrock formations. Springs waters contain appreciable 3H and anthropogenic 14C.
In contrast, inactive zone groundwater has extremely limited or no communication with annual recharge and has groundwater mean residence times that do not progressively lengthen along the flow path. Groundwater in the inactive zone may be partitioned, occur as discrete bodies, and may occur in hydraulically isolated regions that do not have hydraulic communication with each other. Inactive zone groundwater is encountered in-mines (coal-mines 300–700 m below ground surface) where groundwater discharge rates decline rapidly and the waters have δ2H and δ18O compositions that are distinguishable from near surface groundwater. In general, deep waters have no 3H and have mean 14C residence times of 500 to 20,000 yr (45.9 to 4.9 pmc). Chemical evolution modeling, porosity-permeability core plug analysis, and in-mine hydrographs also indicate hydraulic partitioning.