Ground water in the Gila River Basin and adjacent areas, Arizona: a summary

Open-File Report 172



This report is a resume' of the principal facts collected by the Geological Survey in the period 1890-1952 about the ground-water resources of the Gila River basin and certain other areas in Arizona. Since 1939 the Geological Survey has been making ground-water investigations on a continuing basis in cooperation with the State of Arizona. Since 1940 the cooperating agency has been the State Land Department.

The occurrence of ground water in fifteen areas that form a part of the Gila River drainage basin is described in this report. The areas are denoted by the name of a town or geographic feature, and are as follows: Duncan, Safford, San Simon, Upper San Pedro, Lower San Pedro, Aravaipa Creek, Upper Santa Cruz, Lower Santa Cruz, Salt River Valley, Rainbow ValleyWaterman Wash, McMullen Valley, Harquahala Plain, Gila Bend, Palomas Plain, and Wellton-Mohawk. Data also are presented for several areas not in the Gila River system, including Ranegras Plain and the Willcox and Douglas basins. A summary of the data is given following the ground-water discussion in each area.

A series of maps accompany the report, including an index map and maps of the principal areas of ground-water development. The mar,z, show the geology, the location of most of the irrigation wells and irrigated lands, and, where data were available, contours of the water table, depth to the water table, and changes in its position over a period of years.

Ground water occurs in the region primarily in alluvial fill consisting of gravel, sand, silt, and clay which was deposited in structural troughs between mountain ranges. Ground water stored in these alluvial basins is derived from many sources. The principal sources are infiltration from runoff along the mountain fronts and seepage from irrigation water applied to cultivated lands.

Of great interest in Arizona at the present time is the rate of depletion of ground-water reserves by withdrawals from storage. Use of ground water in Arizona increased by more than 50 percent in the 6-year period 1'46-51, from 2,400,000 acre-feet in 1946 to 3,750,000 acre-feet in 1951. The areas of greatest withdrawal are in Pinal and Maricopa Counties, in the southcentral part of the State. Maps and hydrographs accompanying this report show that the water table is declining in the heavily pumped areas, indicating that ground water is being withdrawn in excess of replenishment. The rate of decline has been as much as 10 feet per year in the most intensively pumped areas, and has been greatest during the past few years.

In an effort to compensate for decreased well yields resulting from the decline of the water table in some areas, many deep wells have been drilled within the past few years. The deep aquifers do not represent a new source of water; their water is a part of the common supply of the structural basins in which they lie. The aquifers tapped by these deep wells generally yield less water per foot of drawdown than the shallower aquifers. The water in the deeper aquifers is variable in quality, ranging from water too high in dissolved solids to be usable for irrigation to water lower in concentration than that in the overlying aquifers.

The quality of the ground waters in most of the region is considered suitable for irrigation. In local areas, however, the ground waters are naturally unsuitable for irrigation and, in other areas, the concentration of dissolved solids has increased sufficiently to make the waters harmful to some crops. The problem of salt balance is becoming increasingly important, not only in the Salt River Valley area, but also in other parts of the Gila River Basin. A discussion of the salt-balance problem is given in Part II of this report. 

It should be emphasized that ground waters in each of the individual areas in the Gila River drainage system are interrelated with ground waters in adjacent areas upstream and downstream. The connection is tenuous between some areas, but in central Arizona the ground waters in the different areas are closely related. Although subsurface barriers to ground-water movement exist in places, they are not everywhere fully effective.

The ground-water--surface-water interrelationship is important in some areas. Those basins occupied by perennial streams, or by streams having large influent seepage losses, have not shown large, perennial declines of water levels in wells. Effluent seepage of ground water contributes to stream flow in the lower reaches of several basins.

Study Area

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Ground water in the Gila River Basin and adjacent areas, Arizona: a summary
Series title Open-File Report
Series number 172
DOI 10.3133/ofr172
Year Published 1952
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Description xxii, 224 p.
Country United States
State Arizona
Other Geospatial Gila River
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