The States of Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming compose the 392,764-square-mile area of Segment 8, which is in the north-central part of the continental United States. The area varies topographically from the high rugged mountain ranges of the Rocky Mountains in western Montana and Wyoming to the gently undulating surface of the Central Lowland in eastern North Dakota and South Dakota (fig. 1). The Black Hills in southwestern South Dakota and northeastern Wyoming interrupt the uniformity of the intervening Great Plains. Segment 8 spans the Continental Divide, which is the drainage divide that separates streams that generally flow westward from those that generally flow eastward. The area of Segment 8 is drained by the following major rivers or river systems: the Green River drains southward to join the Colorado River, which ultimately discharges to the Gulf of California; the Clark Fork and the Kootenai Rivers drain generally westward by way of the Columbia River to discharge to the Pacific Ocean; the Missouri River system and the North Platte River drain eastward and southeastward to the Mississippi River, which discharges to the Gulf of Mexico; and the Red River of the North and the Souris River drain northward through Lake Winnipeg to ultimately discharge to Hudson Bay in Canada.
These rivers and their tributaries are an important source of water for public-supply, domestic and commercial, agricultural, and industrial uses. Much of the surface water has long been appropriated for agricultural use, primarily irrigation, and for compliance with downstream water pacts. Reservoirs store some of the surface water for flood control, irrigation, power generation, and recreational purposes. Surface water is not always available when and where it is needed, and ground water is the only other source of supply. Ground water is obtained primarily from wells completed in unconsolidated-deposit aquifers that consist mostly of sand and gravel, and from wells completed in semiconsolidated- and consolidated-rock aquifers, chiefly sandstone and limestone. Some wells withdraw water from volcanic rocks, igneous and metamorphic rocks, or fractured fine-grained sedimentary rocks, such as shale; however, wells completed in these types of rocks generally yield only small volumes of water.
Most wells in the four-State area of Segment 8 are on privately owned land (fig. 2). Agriculture, primarily irrigation, is one of the largest uses of ground water. The irrigation generally is on lowlands close to streams (fig. 3). Lowlands within a few miles of major streams usually are irrigated with surface water that is diverted by gravity flow from the main stream or a reservoir and transported through a canal system. Surface water also is pumped to irrigate land that gravity systems cannot supply. In addition, ground water is pumped from large-capacity wells to supplement surface water during times of drought or during seasons of the year when surface water is in short supply. Ground water is the only source of water for irrigation in much of the segment. The thickness and permeability of aquifers in the area of Segment 8 vary considerably, as do yields of wells completed in the aquifers. Ground-water levels and artesian pressures (hydraulic head) have declined significantly in some places as a result of excessive withdrawals by wells. State governments have taken steps to control the declines by enacting programs that either limit the number of additional wells that can be completed in a particular aquifer or prevent further ground-water development altogether.
The demand for water is directly related to the distribution of people. In 1990, Montana had a population of 799,065; North Dakota, 638,800; South Dakota, 696,004; and Wyoming, 453,588. The more densely populated areas are on lowlands near major streams. Many of the mountain, desert, and upland areas lack major population centers, particularly in Montana and Wyoming, where use
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Ground Water Atlas of the United States: Segment 8, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming