Generalized hydrology of prairie potholes on the Coteau du Missouri, North Dakota

Circular 558




This report presents all the information, obtained during the investigation, that lends itself to generalization. It describes conditions on that part of the Coteau du Missouri where there is little integration of drainage systems. The surface of the glacial drift in this region is dotted with shallow depressions known as prairie potholes that hold water for varying lengths of time. Precipitation directly on a pothole is the basic source of its water supply, but it is only about half the potential evaporation; therefore, potholes tend to go dry. Basin inflow from melting snow or rain occurs only when the soil is frozen or saturated, a condition so erratic in occurrence that seasonal or annual precipitation is of little value as an indication of basin inflow. Net seepage outflow occurs from potholes on the higher parts of the Coteau at very low rates, but it can amount to 20 to 30 percent of the total water loss from a pothole. Net seepage inflow occurs at the potholes on the lower parts of the Coteau. The phreatic surface (water table) tends to be a subdued image of the topography and is generally very near the land surface. The water surfaces of the potholes are part of the phreatic surface, and therefore they can be used to prepare a contour map of the phreatic surface; wells usually act as piezometers and thus are useless for such a purpose. Generally, potholes with water relatively low in dissolved solids have net seepage outflow, and those with water containing high concentration of dissolved solids have net seepage inflow. The direction of ground-water movement can therefore be inferred from the quality of water in potholes. The total salinity of water in a pothole is largely a function of the rate of ground-water flow and the relationship of seepage inflow to outflow. The species of emergent aquatic vegetation that grow in a pothole are directly related to the permanence and salinity of the water at the particular site of each species. The report contains a table of the common species that can be used as indicators of these conditions.

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USGS Numbered Series
Generalized hydrology of prairie potholes on the Coteau du Missouri, North Dakota
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U.S. Geological Survey
Contributing office(s):
Dakota Water Science Center, North Dakota Water Science Center
v, 12 p.