During times of drought, ground water in the Lodgepole Creek area around Sidney, western Nebraska, may be insufficient to yield adequate supplies to private and municipal wells. Alternate sources of water exist in the Cheyenne Tablelands north of the city, but these sources are limited in extent. In 2003, the U.S. Geological Survey and the South Platte Natural Resources District began a cooperative study to evaluate the ground water near Sidney.
The 122-square-mile study area lies in the south-central part of Cheyenne County, with Lodgepole Creek and Sidney Draw occupying the southern and western parts of the study area and the Cheyenne Tablelands occupying most of the northern part of the study area. Twenty-nine monitoring wells were installed and then sampled in 2004 and 2005 for physical characteristics, nutrients, major ions, and stable isotopes. Some of the 29 sites also were sampled for ground-water age dating.
Ground water is limited in extent in the tableland areas. Spring 2005 depths to ground water in the tableland areas ranged from 95 to 188 feet. Ground-water flow in the tableland areas primarily is northeasterly. South of a ground-water divide, ground-water flows southeasterly toward Lodgepole Creek Valley.
Water samples from monitoring wells in the Ogallala Group were predominantly a calcium bicarbonate type, and those from monitoring wells in the Brule Formation were a sodium bicarbonate type. Water samples from monitoring wells open to the Brule sand were primarily a calcium bicarbonate type at shallow depths and a sodium bicarbonate type at deeper depths. Ground water in Lodgepole Creek Valley had a strong sodium signature, which likely results from most of the wells being open to the Brule. Concentrations of sodium and nitrate in ground-water samples from the Ogallala were significantly different than in water samples from the Brule and Brule sand. In addition, significant differences were seen in concentrations of calcium between water samples from the Ogallala and the Brule sand. Median concentrations of nitrate varied by aquifer-2.6 milligrams per liter (Ogallala), 2.1 milligrams per liter (Brule), and 1.3 milligrams per liter (Brule sand).
The chemistry of the ground water in the study area indicates that ground water flows from recharge areas in both the tableland areas and Lodgepole Creek Valley to discharge areas beyond the study area. Recharging water that percolates into the Ogallala in the tableland areas either enters the Ogallala aquifer, flows along the Ogallala-Brule contact, or enters Brule fractures or sand. Although limited in amount, ground water flowing along the Ogallala-Brule contact or in the Brule fractures or sand appears to be the predominant means by which water moves from the tableland areas to Lodgepole Creek Valley.
Apparent ground-water ages from chlorofluorocarbon and sulfur hexafluoride data generally were similar. Age of ground water for most monitoring wells located in Lodgepole Creek Valley ranged from the mid- to late 1960s to the early 1990s. Ages of ground water in samples from monitoring wells located in tableland draw areas ranged from the mid-1980s to the early 1990s. Water in the Brule (areas without known secondary permeability structures) or deeper Brule sand aquifer was substantially older than water in the Ogallala aquifer and probably was recharged between 10,000 to 30,000 years before present.
The stable isotopic data indicate that the ground water in the study area probably originated from precipitation. Ground water in Lodgepole Creek and the tableland areas are similar in chemistry. However, there appears to be limited interaction between ground water within the Ogallala to the north of Sidney and Lodgepole Creek Valley. Available data indicate that although some of the ground water in the Ogallala likely flows across the Ogallala-Brule contact, most of it does not move toward Lodgepole Creek.