The Belle Fourche irrigation project is in western South Dakota on the plains adjacent to the northeastern edge of the Black Hills. The project is drained by the Belle Fourche River and is characterized generally by broad shallow valleys that lie between hills with gentle slopes. The climate is semiarid.
Most of the area is mantled by residual clay, terrace deposits, and alluvium. The terrace deposits contain much water and are the most permeable deposits in the project area. The alluvial deposits of the Belle Fourche River and of the creeks south of the river contain much sand and gravel and are relatively permeable. The alluvium of the creeks north of the river is predominantly clay and is only slightly permeable; it greatly resembles the residual clay of the weathered bedrock formations, which are mostly shale in this area.
Although relatively abundant ground water is found in the unconsolidated materials above the bedrock formations, the ground water from the clayey deposits generally contains too great a concentration of objectionable salts to be fit for human or livestock consumption. The ground water in the more coarse materials is of better quality and in some small areas is satisfactory for domestic use. Most of the water for domestic use is hauled from deep artesian wells within the area.
The chief source of ground water is seepage from irrigation canals in the terrace and alluvial deposits. When this water moves to areas of lower permeability a correspondingly greater rise of the water table compensates for the lower permeability and results in the waterlogging of many areas. Open drainage ditches have been constructed in all large areas that are affected by high ground-water levels. Except in those areas that are underlain predominantly by clayey materials, these ditches usually have proven to be satisfactory for the control of ground-water levels. However, lining the canals seems to be a more satisfactory method of preventing the seepage that causes high ground-water levels.
A detailed investigation should be made of ground-water conditions in the Belle Fourche project area. Additional observation wells should be installed so that the effectiveness of the ground-water control measures can be determined.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Reconnaissance of the geology and ground-water hydrology of the Belle Fourche irrigation project, South Dakota