Geology and water resources of Portage County, Wisconsin

Water Supply Paper 1796




Portage County has abundant resources of generally good quality water and, although water problems exist locally, depletion or general scarcity of water is not likely in the foreseeable future.

The county receives annually about 31 inches of precipitation, of which about 21 inches is lost as evaportranspiration. The average annual water yield is about 10.6 inches and consists of about 10.3 inches of runoff to streams, about 0.2 inch of water which leaves the county as underflow, and about 0.1 inch of water which is used consumptively.

The surface-water resources include 104 lakes, about 110 miles of streams that discharge about 600 cfs (cubic feet per second) to the Wisconsin, Waupaca, and Little Wolf Rivers, and the Wisconsin River which has an average flow of about 2.400 cfs. Extensive deposits of outwash sand and gravel, sandy till, and alluvium release annually about 460 cfs of ground water to the streams.

The principal source of ground water is thick deposits of glacial drift that occur over all but the northwestern part of the county. Although as much as 100 feet of sandstone underlies the drift in the southern part, it is not an important aquifer. Impermeable crystalline rocks of Precambrian age underlie all the aquifers and limit the downward movement of water.

The county has been divided into areas having similar geologic and hydrologic conditions. These areas are here named the "sand-plain province," the "drift province," and the "drift-crystalline-rock province." The sand-plain province and the eastern part of the drift province have the greatest potential for development of large ground-water supplies. Wells yielding 1,000 to 2,000 gpm (gallons per minute) can be developed in the sand-plain province and wells yielding about 500 gpm can be developed in the drift province. Nearly all the communities in the county have water resources adequate for future expansion. An exception to this is Junction City where only a limited supply of poor quality water is readily available. Additional supplies can be developed from ground water in the Mill Creek area or from the Wisconsin River.

In the sand-plain and drift provinces, ground-water runoff is about 9 inches a year and surface runoff is about 1 inch a year and of short duration. In the drift-crystalline-rock province, however, ground-water runoff is about 2 inches a year and surface runoff is about 8 inches a year and varies greatly in rate of flow.

Surface and ground water are closely interrelated throughout the county and constitute a single resource. Streams, lakes, and marshes are the visible part of the ground-water surface and ground water moves slowly and continuously toward these surface points of discharge.

Pumping for irrigation has temporarily lowered water levels in the vicinity of wells but has not lowered regional water levels. Pumpage has intercepted and utilized some of the recharge that would have been rapidly discharged from the aquifer, but it has not materially depleted the flow of streams. The 1955-59 decline in water levels and lake stages is attributed to a deficiency in precipitation and not to the increased pumpage from irrigation wells. To prevent excessive declines in water levels, high-capacity wells should be adequately spaced about 2,500 feet between wells pumping 1,000 gpm for 90 days.

In the Stevens Point area, heavy pumping of wells near the Plover River induces recharge to ground water and thus reduces local declines in the water level.

The chemical quality of ground water is generally good, but, locally, hard water and undesirable amounts of iron require treatment.

Study Area

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Geology and water resources of Portage County, Wisconsin
Series title:
Water Supply Paper
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Contributing office(s):
Wisconsin Water Science Center
Report: v, 77 p.; 2 Plates: 34.00 x 41.50 inches and 34.50 x 32.00 inches
United States
Portage County
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