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Ground-water-quality assessment of the Central Oklahoma Aquifer, Oklahoma: geochemical and geohydrologic investigations

Open-File Report 92-642

By:
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Abstract

The National Water-Quality Assessment pilot project for the Central Oklahoma aquifer examined the chemical and isotopic composition of ground water, the abundances and textures of minerals in core samples, and water levels and hydraulic properties in the flow system to identify geochemical reactions occurring in the aquifer and rates and directions of ground-water flow. The aquifer underlies 3,000 square miles of central Oklahoma and consists of Permian red beds, including parts of the Permian Garber Sandstone, Wellington Formation, and Chase, Council Grove, and Admire Groups, and Quaternary alluvium and terrace deposits.

In the part of the Garber Sandstone and Wellington Formation that is not confined by the Permian Hennessey Group, calcium, magnesium, and bicarbonate are the dominant ions in ground water; in the confined part of the Garber Sandstone and Wellington Formation and in the Chase, Council Grove, and Admire Groups, sodium and bicarbonate are the dominant ions in ground water. Nearly all of the Central Oklahoma aquifer has an oxic or post-oxic environment as indicated by the large dissolved concentrations of oxygen, nitrate, arsenic(V), chromium(VI), selenium(VI), vanadium, and uranium. Sulfidic and methanic environments are virtually absent.

Petrographic textures indicate dolomite, calcite, sodic plagioclase, potassium feldspars, chlorite, rock fragments, and micas are dissolving, and iron oxides, manganese oxides, kaolinite, and quartz are precipitating. Variations in the quantity of exchangeable sodium in clays indicate that cation exchange is occurring within the aquifer. Gypsum may dissolve locally within the aquifer, as indicated by ground water with large concentra-tions of sulfate, but gypsum was not observed in core samples. Rainwater is not a major source for most elements in ground water, but evapotranspiration could cause rainwater to be a significant source of potassium, sulfate, phosphate and nitrogen species. Brines derived from seawater are the most likely source of bromide and chloride in the aquifer.

The dominant reaction in recharge is the uptake of carbon dioxide gas from the unsaturated zone (about 2.0 to 4.0 millimoles per liter) and the dissolution of dolomite (about 0.3 to 1.0 millimoles per liter). This reaction generates calcium, magnesium, and bicarbonate water composition. If dolomite does not dissolve to equilibrium, pH values range from 6.0 to 7.3; if dolomite dissolves to equilibrium, pH values are about 7.5. By the time recharge enters the deeper flow system, all ground water is saturated or supersaturated with dolomite and calcite.

After carbonate-mineral equilibration has occurred, cation exchange of calcium and magnesium for sodium is the dominant geochemical reaction, which occurs to a substantial extent only in parts of the aquifer. Mass transfers of cation exchange greater than 2.0 millimoles per liter occur in the confined part of the Garber Sandstone and Wellington Formation and in parts of the Chase, Council Grove, and Admire Groups. Associated with cation exchange is dissolution of small quantities of dolomite, calcite, biotite, chlorite, plagioclase, or potassium feldspar, which produces pH values that range from 8.6 to 9.1.

Large tritium concentrations indicate ground-water ages of less than about 40 years for most samples of recharge. Carbon-14 ages for samples from the unconfined aquifer generally are less than 10,000 years. Carbon-14 ages of ground water in the confined part of the aquifer range from about 10,000 to 30,000 years or older. These ages produce a time trend in deuterium values that qualitatively is consistent with the timing of the transition from the last glacial maximum to the present interglacial period.

The most transmissive geologic units in the Central Oklahoma aquifer are the Garber Sandstone and Wellington Formation and the alluvium and terrace deposits; the Chase, Council Grove, and Admire Groups are less transmissive on the basis of available specific-capacity data. The transmissivities of the Permian geologic units depend largely on the percentage of sandstone; the percentage is greatest in the central part of the aquifer and decreases in all directions from this central part. Because of large mudstone and siltstone contents, the Hennessey Group and the Vanoss Formation are assumed to be confining units above and below the aquifer. The Cimarron and Canadian Rivers are defined to be the northern and southern extent of the aquifer because of decreases in transmissivity beyond the rivers and because there is no indication of ground-water underflow at these rivers. The eastern boundary of the aquifer is the limit of the outcrop of the Chase, Council Grove, and Admire Groups. The presence of brines in the western part of the study unit and below the aquifer indicate the extent of the freshwater flow system in these directions.

Regional ground-water flow is west to east; the Deep Fork is a major discharge area for the regional flow system. Local flow systems are present within the unconfined part of the study unit. Most streams are gaining streams, and very few losing streams are evident.

Median values of aquifer properties were estimated as follows: recharge to the saturated zone, 1.6 inches per year; evapotranspiration of water that never reaches the saturated zone, 25 to 30 inches per year; porosity, 0.22; storage coefficient, 0.0002; transmissivity, 260 to 450 feet squared per day; horizontal hydraulic conductivity, 4.5 feet per day; and the ratio of horizontal to vertical hydraulic conductivity, 10,000. Reported ground-water withdrawals peaked in 1985 at 13,900 million gallons but had decreased to 7,860 million gallons by 1989. Unreported domestic withdrawals were estimated to be 1,685 million gallons in 1980.

The flow system in the aquifer can be considered to have three major components: (1) A shallow, local flow system in the unconfined part of the aquifer, (2) a deep, regional flow system in the unconfined part of the aquifer, and (3) a deep, regional flow system in the confined part of the aquifer. In the shallow, local flow system, water flows relatively quickly along short flowlines from the point of recharge to the point of discharge at the nearest stream. Many water samples from shallow wells contain large concentrations of tritium, which indicate ground-water ages of less than 40 years. In the deep, regional flow system in the unconfined part of the aquifer, water takes more time to flow along longer flowlines than in the shallow, local flow system. Much of the water in this flow system is recharged along ridges that correspond to ground-water divides between drainage basins. Transit times for water recharging the aquifer along ridges is greater than 5,000 years, computed using a numerical flow model in conjunction with a particle-tracking model. The deep, regional flow system in the confined part of the Garber Sandstone and Wellington Formation is recharged from a small part of the outcrop area of the Garber Sandstone. From the recharge area, water flows west under the confining unit to discharge to streams as far away as the Cimarron River. Flowpaths are relatively long, as much as 50 miles. The transit times in this flow system range from thousands to tens of thousands of years.

The long-term hydrogeochemical process occurring in the Central Oklahoma aquifer is removal of unstable minerals, including dolomite, calcite, biotite, chlorite, and feldspars, and the replacement of exchangeable sodium on clays with calcium and magnesium. Over geologic time, the flux of water through the rapidly moving, local flow system has been sufficient to remove most of the dolomite, calcite, and exchangeable sodium. In places, chlorite and feldspars have been removed. In the deep, regional flow system of the unconfined part of the Garber Sandstone and Wellington Formation, the flux of water has been sufficient to remove most of the exchangeable sodium, but carbonate minerals remain sufficiently abundant to maintain dolomite and calcite equilibrium. In the confined part of the Garber Sandstone and Wellington Formation and in the less transmissive parts of the unconfined aquifer, including the Chase, Council Grove, and Admire Groups, ground-water flow is slowest, and the flux of water and extent of reaction have been insufficient to remove either the carbonate minerals or the exchangeable sodium on clays.

Study Area

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Report
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Title:
Ground-water-quality assessment of the Central Oklahoma Aquifer, Oklahoma: geochemical and geohydrologic investigations
Series title:
Open-File Report
Series number:
92-642
Year Published:
1993
Language:
English
Publisher:
U.S. Geological Survey
Description:
viii, 113 p.
Country:
United States
State:
Oklahoma
Other Geospatial:
Central Oklahoma Aquifer