Geology and ground-water resources of the lower Little Bighorn River Valley, Big Horn County, Montana, with special reference to the drainage of waterlogged lands, with a section on chemical quality of the water

Water Supply Paper 1487

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The lower Little Bighorn River valley, Montana, is in the unglaciated part of the Missouri Plateau section of the Great Plains physiographic province. The river and its principal tributaries rise in the Bighorn Mountains, and the confluence of this northward-flowing stream with the Bighorn River is near the east edge of Hardin, Mont. The normal annual precipitation ranges from about 12 inches in the northern part of the area to 15 inches in the southern part. The economy of the area is founded principally on farming, much of the low-lying land adjacent to the river being irrigated. The irrigated land is within the Crow Indian Reservation, although a part is privately owned. The bedrock formations exposed in the area are of Cretaceous age and include the Parkman sandstone, Claggett shale, Eagle sandstone, Telegraph Creek shale, and Cody shale. The Cloverly formation, Tensleep sandstone, and Madison limestone, which underlie but are not exposed in the area, and the Parkman sandstone in the southern half of the area appear to be the principal bedrock aquifers. All except the Parkman lie at depths ranging from a few feet to several thousand feet, and all appear to be capable of yielding water in commercial quantities. Some of the other formations arc capable of yielding enough water for domestic and stock needs. The river alluvium of Recent age and the Pleistocene terrace deposits are the principal unconsolidated formations in the area with respect to water supply and drainage. Wells yielding as much as 100 gallons per minute may be developed in favorable areas. Pumping tests reveal that the transmissibility of the coarser unconsolidated materials probably ranges from about 15,000 to 30,000 gallons per day per foot. Two tests of the Parkman sandstone showed transmissibilities of 6,000 and 20,000 gallons per day per foot. Although a test of the Cloverly formation showed a transmissibility of only 3,000 gallons per day per foot, the high artesian pressure--80 pounds per square inch at the land surface--in the Cloverly caused the tested well to yield about 200 gallons per minute by natural flow; this is greater than the yield of any other single well in the area. Textural properties were compared with the hydraulic properties determined by laboratory tests to show the relation between different types of waterbearing materials. Materials classified as heavy soils-normally somewhat dense and impervious-had an average permeability of 7.2 gallons per day per square foot, which was more than expected. One sample of very coarse alluvial material had a permeability of 6,000 gallons per day per square foot. The depth to water beneath irrigation units was mapped, thus showing the waterlogged areas. Waterlogging is not a serious problem where the water table is more than 6 feet below the land surface. For the drainage studies the unconsolidated deposits are classified in two zones-coarse-grained sediments resting on the relatively impermeable bedrock floor and overlying fine-grained sediments which extend to the land surface. The transmissibility of the coarse-sediment zone generally is many times greater than that of the fine-sediment zone. Because in many places drains could not be economically dug deep enough to enter the coarse zone, the study of the effectiveness of drainage completed in the fine zone received much attention. The studies showed that, despite a considerable thickness of fine-grained sediments between the bottom of the drain and the top of the coarse zone, drainage ditches frequently were effective in relieving waterlogging of fields nearby. Pilot relief wells installed in existing drains showed that the effectiveness of some drains could be increased appreciably by installing a series of relief wells. Records of fluctuations of water levels in 196 observation wells and water-level contour maps were studied to show the principal areas of recharge and discharge in the irrigable areas. These studie

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USGS Numbered Series
Geology and ground-water resources of the lower Little Bighorn River Valley, Big Horn County, Montana, with special reference to the drainage of waterlogged lands, with a section on chemical quality of the water
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Water Supply Paper
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U.S. G.P.O.,
viii, 223 p. :ill., maps ;24 cm.