The alluvial valley of the North Fork Solomon River is an important agricultural area. Reservoir releases diverted below Kirwin Dam are the principal source of irrigation water. During the 1970'S, severe water shortages occurred in Kirwin Reservoir and other nearby reservoirs as a result of an extended drought. Some evidence indicates that surface-water shortages may have been the result of a change in the rainfall-runoff relationship. Examination of the rainfall-runoff relationship shows no apparent trend from 1951 to 1968, but annual records from 1969 to 1976 indicate that deficient rainfall occurred during 6 of the 8 years.
Ground water from the alluvial aquifer underlying the river valley also is used extensively for irrigation. Utilization of ground water for irrigation greatly increased from about 200 acre-feet in 1955 to about 12,300 acre-feet in 1976. Part of the surface water diverted for irrigation has percolated downward into the aquifer raising the ground-water level. Ground-water storage in the aquifer increased from 230,000 acre-feet in 1946 to 275,000 acre-feet in 1976-77.
A digital model was used to simulate the steady-state conditions in the aquifer prior to closure of Kirwin Dam. Model results indicated that precipitation was the major source of recharge to the aquifer. The effective recharge, or gain from precipitation minus evapotranspiration, was about 11,700 acre-feet per year. The major element of discharge from the aquifer was leakage to the river. The simulated net leakage (leakage to the river minus leakage from the river) was about 11,500 acre-feet per year. The simulated value is consistent with the estimated gain in base flow of the river within the area modeled.
Measurements of seepage used to determine gain and loss to the stream were made twice during 1976. Based on these measurements and on base-flow periods identified from hydrographs, it was estimated that the ground-water discharge to the stream has increased about 4,000 acre-feet per year from 1946 to 1976. During the same period, ground water withdrawn from the aquifer increased 12,100 acre-feet per year. Hydrographs of water levels in wells indicate some withdrawal from aquifer storage during 1976, possibly as a combined result of below-normal rainfall and greatly increased pumpage. The analysis of data is inconclusive as to whether the aquifer can sustain increased groundwater development. However, the analysis does indicate that the aquifer could sustain withdrawals at the 1976 rate for several consecutive years of drought similar to the 1976 conditions.