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Hydrology of the Upper Malad River basin, southeastern Idaho

Water Supply Paper 1888

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Abstract

The report area comprises 485 square miles in the Basin and Range physiographic province. It includes most of eastern' Oneida County and parts of Franklin, Bannock, and Power Counties of southeastern Idaho. Relief is about 5,000 feet; the floor of the Malad Valley is at an average altitude of about 4,400 feet. Agriculture is, by far, ,the principal economic .activity. In 1960 the population of the upper Malad River basin was about 3,600, of which about 60 percent resided in Malad City, the county seat of Oneida County.

The climate is semiarid throughout the Malad Valley and its principal tributary valleys; ,above 6,500 feet the climate is subhumid. Annual precipitation ranges from about 13 inches in the lower Malad Valley to more than 30 inches on the highest peaks of the Bannock and Malad ranges. Owing to ,the normally clear atmospheric conditions, large daily and seasonal temperature fluctuations are common. Topography, distance from the Pacific Ocean, .and the general atmospheric circulation are the principal factors governing the climate of the Malad River basin. The westerlies transport moisture from the P.acific Ocean toward southeastern Idaho. The north-south tren4ing mountains flanking the basin are oriented orthogonally to the moisture flux so that they are very effective in removing precipitable water from the air. A minimum uplift of 6,000 feet is required to transport moisture from the Pacific source region; accordingly, most air masses are desiccated long before they reach the Malad basin. Heaviest precipitation is generally associated with steep pressure gradients in the midtroposphere that are so oriented as to cause a deep landward penetration of moisture from the Pacific Ocean.

Annual water yields in the project area range from about 0.8 inch in the, lower Malad Valley to more than 19 inches on the high peaks north and east of Malad City. The mean annual water yield for the entire basin is 4 inches, or about 115,000 acre-feet. Evaporation is greatest in July when about 7 inches is lost from lakes, reservoirs, and waterlogged areas; losses from free-water surfaces may be as much .as 38 inches annually.

An extensive ground-water reservoir consisting of sand and gravel interbedded with relatively impermeable beds of silt .and clay underlies much of the Malad Valley. Wells near the center of the valley exceeding 700 feet in depth do not reach bedrock. The Woodruff fault, which transects the constricted lower Malad Valley, is one of the main factors creating artesian conditions south of the latitude of Malad City. Recharge is obtained principally from mountain runoff which flows onto highly permeable alluvial fans surrounding the valley and from streams that flow across the valley floor. On the basis of a water balance analysis, under flow from the project area was estimated to be 28,000 acre-feet annually, surface-water outflow was 51,000 acre-feet, and transbasin imports were about 4,000 acre-feet.

The principal tributaries of the Malad River are perennial along their upper and middle reaches and have well-sustained low flows. During the growing season, all surface water entering the Malad Valley is used for irrigation. Spine irrigation is practiced in the principal tributary valleys; however, a shortage of suitable reservoir sites has hampered surface-water development in these areas. The highly porous deposits underlying the Malad Valley tend to attenuate flood peaks. An unusual combination of meteorologic events early in 1962 effectively counteracted the high absorptive capacity of the valley and predisposed the basin to high flood risk. Subsequent rapid snowmelt combined with frozen ground produced the extraordinary flood of February 12, 1962.

Calcium and bicarbonate commonly are the most abundant ions in the surface waters of the upper Malad River basin. In August 1967, the dissolved-solids content of streamflow ranged from 200 to 350 milligrams per liter in the middle and upper parts of the basin; however, much greater values were measured in the Malad River between Woddruff and Cherry Creek Lane. With the exception of that reach, the surface water of the project area is suitable for irrigating all but the most sensitive crops.

The total water yield is not sufficient to meet all the water needs of the basin. A comprehensive water-management plan is required to ensure optimal use of the water resource.

Geospatial Extents

Additional Publication Details

Publication type:
Report
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Title:
Hydrology of the Upper Malad River basin, southeastern Idaho
Series title:
Water Supply Paper
Series number:
1888
Year Published:
1970
Language:
English
Publisher:
U.S. Government Printing Office
Publisher location:
Washington D.C.
Description:
v, 89 p.
Country:
United States
State:
Idaho
Other Geospatial:
Upper Malad River Basin