Effects of irrigation on streamflow in the Central Sand Plain of Wisconsin

Open-File Report 70-362

Prepared in cooperation with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey



Development of ground water for irrigation affects streamflow and water levels in the sand-plain area of central Wisconsin. Additional irrigation development may reduce opportunities for water-based recreation by degrading the streams as trout habitat and by lowering lake levels. This study was made to inventory present development of irrigation in the sand-plain area, assess potential future development, and estimate the effects of irrigation on streamflow and ground-water levels. The suitability of land and the availability of ground water for irrigation are dependent, to a large extent, upon the geology of the area. Rocks making up the ground-water reservoir include outwash, morainal deposits, and glacial lake deposits. These deposits are underlain by crystalline rocks and by sandstone, which act as the floor of the ground-water reservoir. Outwash, the main aquifer, supplies water to about 300 irrigation wells and maintains relatively stable flow in the streams draining the area. The saturated thickness of these deposits is more than 100 feet over much of the area and is as much as 180 feet in bedrock valleys. The saturated thickness of the outwash generally is great enough to provide sufficient water for large-scale irrigation in all but two areas --one near the town of Wisconsin Rapids and one near Dorro Couche Mound. Aquifer tests indicate that the permeability of the outwash is quite high, ranging from about 1,000 gpd per square foot to about 3,800 gpd per square foot, Specific capacities of irrigation wells in the area range from 14 to 157 gpm per foot of drawdown. Water use in the sand-plain area is mainly for irrigation and waterbased recreation. Irrigation development began in the area in the late 1940's, and by 1967 about 19,500 acre-feet of water were pumped to irrigate 34,000 acres of potatoes, snap beans, corn, cucumbers, and other crops. About 70 percent of the applied water was lost to evapotranspiration, and about 30 percent was returned to the ground-water reservoir. Irrigation development should continue in the sand plain; future development probably will include improved artificial drainage and land clearing. The hydrology of the sand-plain area was studied from water budgets for seven basins and from water balances for eight types of vegetative cover or land use. During the study period about 16-20 inches of the 28- to 30-inch average annual precipitation were lost to evapotranspiration from different basins in the area, Evapotranspiration from different types of vegetative cover or land use ranged from about 14 inches per year for bare ground to about 25 inches per year from land covered by phreatophytes. Evapotranspiration is about 19 inches from forested land, about 16 inches from grassland and unirrigated row crops, about 19 inches from irrigated beans, and about 22 inches from irrigated potatoes. Variations in evapotranspiration from the different types of vegetative cover result mainly from differences in soil moisture available to the plants. Available soil moisture ranges from about 1 inch for shallow-rooted grasses and row crops to about 3 inches for forest. Most of the precipitation not used by plants or to replenish soil moisture seeps to the water table, and ground-water recharge in the area averages about 12-14 inches per year. However, computed recharge ranged from about 3 inches to about 22 inches during the 1948-67 period, depending upon the amount and seasonal distribution of precipitation. Of the average 12-14 inches of recharge, about lo-13 inches are discharged to the streams draining the area, and about l-2 inches are used by phreatophytes or by irrigated crops. Annual streamflow in the area averages about 11-12 inches per year, and because it is sustained mainly by ground water, its seasonal distribution is fairly uniform, However, streamflow varies seasonally, being highest in the spring, low in the summer, higher

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USGS Numbered Series
Effects of irrigation on streamflow in the Central Sand Plain of Wisconsin
Series title:
Open-File Report
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U.S. Geological Survey
Contributing office(s):
Wisconsin Water Science Center
Report: 113 p.; 4 Plates: 17 x 21 inches or smaller
United States
Adams, Portage, Waushara, Wood
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