Summary of ground-water hydrology of the Cambrian-Ordovician aquifer system in the northern Midwest, United States: A in Regional aquifer system analysis

Professional Paper 1405-A




The Cambrian-Ordovician aquifer system contains very productive aquifers throughout an area of about 161,000 square miles in the northern Midwest. The aquifer system is used extensively for industrial and rural water supplies and is the primary source of water for many municipalities in most of its area of occurrence, except in Indiana, central and southern Illinois, and western Iowa, where the aquifer system contains saline water. About 680 million gallons per day was withdrawn from drilled wells in the aquifer system in 1980.

Rocks of Cambrian and Ordovician age, mainly marine sandstones and carbonate rocks, constitute most of the bedrock and subcrop beneath glacial drift in southeastern Minnesota, northeastern Iowa, Wisconsin, northern Illinois, and extreme northwestern Indiana. These strata dip generally to the south and east off the Transcontinental arch in Minnesota and the Wisconsin arch, which are structurally high areas of the Precambrian basement, into the structural lows of the Forest City basin of southwestern Iowa, the Illinois basin, and the Michigan basin.

The Cambrian and Ordovician rocks are buried by younger rocks in the remainder of Iowa, Illinois, and Indiana and in most of northern Missouri. Silurian and Devonian carbonate rocks immediately overlie the Cambrian and Ordovician rocks in those areas and are termed the "Silurian-Devonian aquifer" in this study. The balance of the Devonian rocks and the overlying Mississippian and Pennsylvanian rocks generally are fine-grained sediment or dense carbonate rocks and collectively are considered to be a regional confining unit. Most of the area is covered by a veneer of glacial drift, which, along with Cretaceous sandstone in northwestern Iowa, is treated as a regional water-table aquifer.

The Cambrian-Ordovician aquifer system is composed of six hydrogeologic units, which are, in descending order, the Maquoketa confining unit, St. Peter-Prairie du Chien-Jordan aquifer, St. Lawrence- Franconia confining unit, Ironton-Galesville aquifer, Eau Claire confining unit, and Mount Simon aquifer. The uppermost confining unit is the least permeable; it consists primarily of the Maquoketa Shale but includes the dense carbonate rocks of the Galena Dolomite and the Decorah, Platteville, and Glenwood Formations where they are overlain by the Maquoketa Shale. The presence of the Maquoketa in Iowa, eastern Wisconsin, northeastern Illinois, and Indiana effectively confines the entire aquifer system below.

The aquifer system is a leaky-artesian system in which movement of ground water is controlled partly by the internal confining units. In the northern outcrop area, unconfined conditions prevail in shallow parts of the aquifer system and where the system is thin. Much of the recharge in upland areas discharges to streams through local flow systems, which are no more than a few miles in length. The remainder of the recharge moves slowly downward to deeper formations and downgradient to form or join the regional flow system.

Computer simulations of regional ground-water flow improve understanding of the regional character of the Cambrian-Ordovician aquifer system. Ground-water flow in the confined part of the aquifer system is mainly horizontal, away from the structural highs in the north, toward the structural basins in the south and east. The rate of ground-water movement is very slow, and the flux along flow paths into the basins decreases because of a progressive loss of head and small but widespread upward leakage. Saline water in the basins restricts movement of freshwater into the deeper parts of the basins, thereby forcing flow upward through confining units. Principal regional discharge areas are the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, the Illinois and Michigan structural basins, and Lake Michigan. However, the lake is not in direct hydraulic connection with the Cambrian-Ordovician aquifer system and receives flow primarily from the Silurian-Devonian aquifer, which it directly overlies. The longest regional flow paths originate in recharge areas in northwestern Iowa and extend southeastward as much as 400 miles toward the Illinois basin.

Simulated predevelopment recharge and discharge for the Cambrian- Ordovician aquifer system balance at 351 million gallons per day.

Development of the aquifer system began in various parts of the northern Midwest in the 1860's and 1870's with the drilling of deep, generally flowing artesian wells near Lake Michigan in eastern Wisconsin and northeastern Illinois and along the valleys of the Mississippi River and its tributaries. Initial heads of 186 and 130 feet above Lake Michigan at Milwaukee and Chicago, respectively, have been reported. Large-scale pumping has produced cones of depression in these two areas, with respective head declines of as much as 375 and 900 feet. Other major pumping centers generally have had much smaller declines. The largest withdrawals from the aquifer system were about 180 million gallons per day in each of the major metropolitan areas of Chicago and Minneapolis-St. Paul (Twin Cities). However, the total decline in head in the St. Peter-Prairie du Chien-Jordan aquifer in the Twin Cities by 1980 was only 90 feet because the aquifer is unconfined. Most of the eastern two-thirds of Iowa, where the aquifer system is tightly confined, is characterized by more than 50 feet of head decline, with 200 feet or more at Mason City and the Quad Cities. Pumpage from the Cambrian-Ordovician aquifer system throughout the study area averaged 683 million gallons per day for the period 1976-80. Results of a transient-model simulation show that recharge increased over predevelopment recharge by 447 million gallons per day. Natural discharge decreased by 99 million gallons per day, and 137 million gallons per day was released from aquifer storage. Mineralization of ground water in the aquifer system increases from slightly mineralized calcium magnesium bicarbonate water in the northern recharge areas, through more mineralized, mixed water types with increased sodium and sulfate, to highly mineralized sodium chloride brines in the deeper parts of the structural basins.

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Summary of ground-water hydrology of the Cambrian-Ordovician aquifer system in the northern Midwest, United States: A in Regional aquifer system analysis
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Professional Paper
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U.S. Geological Survey
Contributing office(s):
Wisconsin Water Science Center
55 p.
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USGS Numbered Series
Larger Work Title:
Regional aquifer system analysis
United States
Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Wisconsin
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