The study area (see index map of Idaho), part of the Big Lost River drainage basin, is at the northern side of the eastern Snake River Plain. The lower Big Lost River Valley extends from the confluence of Antelope Creek and the Big Lost River to about 4 mi south of Arco and encompasses about 145 mi2 (see map showing water-level contours). The study area is about 18 mi long and, at its narrowest, 4 mi wide. Arco, Butte City, and Moore, with populations of 1,016, 59, and 190, respectively, in 1990, are the only incorporated towns. The entire study area, except the extreme northwestern part, is in Butte City. The study area boundary is where alluvium and colluvium pinch out and abut against the White Knob Mountains (chiefly undifferentiated sedimentary rock with lesser amounts of volcanic rock) on the west and the Lost River Range (chiefly sedimentary rock) on the east. Gravel and sand in the valley fill compose the main aquifer. The southern boundary is approximately where Big Lost River valley fill intercalates with or abuts against basalt of the Snake River Group.
Spring ground-water levels and flow in the Big Lost River depend primarily on temperature and the amount and timing of precipitation within the entire drainage basin. Periods of abundant water supply and water shortages are, therefore, related to the amount of annual precipitation. Surface reservoir capacity in the valley (Mackay Reservoir, about 20 mi northwest of Moore) is only 20 percent of the average annual flow of the Big Lost River (Crosthwaite and others, 1970, p. 3). Stored surface water is generally unavailable for carryover from years of abundant water supply to help relieve drought conditions in subsequent years. Many farmers have drilled irrigation wells to supplement surface-water supplies and to increase irrigated acreage.
Average annual flow of the Big Lost River below Mackay Reservoir near Mackay (gaging station 13127000, not shown) in water years 1905, 1913-14, and 1920-90 was about 224,600 acre-ft; average annual flow of the Big Lost River near Arco (gaging station 13132500; see map showing water-level contours) in water years 1947-61, 1967-80, and 1983-90 was about 79,000 acre-ft (Harenberg and others, 1991, p. 254-255). Moore Canal and East Side Ditch divert water from the Big Lost River at the Moore Diversion, 3 mi north of Moore (see map showing water-level contours) and supply water for irrigation near the margins of the valley. When water supply is average or greater, water in the Big Lost River flows through the study area and onto the Snake River Plain, where it evaporates or infiltrates into the Snake River Plain aquifer. When water supply is below average, water in the Big Lost River commonly does not reach Arco; rather, it is diverted for irrigation in the interior of the valley, evaporates, or infiltrates to the valley-fill aquifer.
This report describes the results of a study by the U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Idaho Department of Water Resources, to collect hydrologic data needed to help address water-supply problems in the Big Lost River Valley. Work involved (1) field inventory of 81 wells, including 46 irrigation wells; (2) measurement of water levels in 154 wells in March 1991; (3) estimation of annual ground-water pumpage for irrigation from 1984 through 1990; and (4) analysis of results of an aquifer test conducted southwest of Moore. All data obtained during this study may be inspected at the U.S. Geological Survey, Idaho District office, Boise.