Ground water in the Pullman area, Whitman County, Washington

Water Supply Paper 1655




This report presents the results of an investigation of the ground-water resources of the Pullman area, Whitman County, Wash. The investigation war made in cooperation with the State of Washington, Department of Conservation, Division of Water Resources, to determine whether the 1959 rate of ground-water withdrawal exceeded the perennial yield of the developed aquifers, and if so, (1) whether additional aquifers could be developed in the area, and (2) whether the yield of the developed aquifers could be increased by artificial recharge. The Pullman area includes the agricultural district surrounding the city of Pullman, in southeastern Whitman County, and the western two-thirds of the Moscow-Pullman basin, which extends into Latah County, Idaho. The mapped area comprises shout 250 square miles. The area is in a region of smooth rolling hills formed by erosion of thick deposits of loess, which cover a dissected lava plain. The loess (Palouse formation of Pleistocene age) ranges in thickness from less than 1 foot to more than 150 feet. The underlying lava flows, part of the Columbia River basalt of Tertiary age, are nearly horizontal and form bluffs and low cliffs along the major streams. The total thickness of the basalt sequence in the area is not known, but it may be considerably greater than 1,000 feet beneath the city of Pullman. The basalt sequence is underlain by a basement mass of granite, granite gneiss, and quartzite, of pre-Tertiary age. The most productive aquifers in the area are in the Columbia River basalt. They consist of the permeable zones, commonly occurring at the tops of individual lava flows, which may contain ground water under either artesian or water-table conditions. Two such permeable zones have produced more than 95 percent of the ground water used in the Pullman area, or as much as 870 million gallons per year (1957). These two zones are hydraulically connected and lie at depths ranging from about 50 to 170 feet below the land surface at Pullman. The area receives about 21 inches of precipitation annually, about two-thirds of it from October through March. 0nly a fraction of the precipitation reaches the aquifers; the remainder is returned to the atmosphere by evapotranspiration or leaves the area as surface runoff. The basalt is recharged mainly by infiltration from streams and downward percolation from the overlying loess. The ground water moves generally westward. However, most water in the artesian aquifers tapped by wells in the vicinity of Pullman may move toward the city of Pullman, which is the center of major pumping. The rate of movement ranges from extremely slow in the loess and the massive basalt to very rapid in the permeable zones of basalt. The principal modes of discharge from the artesian aquifers are seepage to streams and pumpage from wells. The amount of natural discharge is unknown, but the pumpage ranged from about 340 to 870 million gallons per year, and during 1949-59 it averaged about 800 million gallons (2,500 ac-ft) per year. For about the last 25 years at least, the piezometric surface of the artesian zones has declined each year, indicating that the annual ground-water discharge from the artesian aquifers (including pumpage and natural discharge) has exceeded the recharge in the Pullman area. An analysis of the relation of pumpage to the decline in artesian level indicates that during 1952-59 an average of about 65 million gallons per year was removed from storage. Although the decline in artesian pressures has resulted in an increase in the recharge to the aquifers, the present rate of pumping may be equal to or even exceed the perennial yield of the artesian aquifer in the report area under natural conditions. Geologic and hydrologic conditions seem favorable for the existence of potentially good aquifers below those which are now extensively developed. The deep aquifers seem to have only a slight hydraulic connection with the overlying artesian basalt

Additional Publication Details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Ground water in the Pullman area, Whitman County, Washington
Series title:
Water Supply Paper
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. G.P.O.,
iv, 71 p. :ill., maps ;24 cm.