Groundwater elevations in three basalt units and one unconsolidated hydrogeologic unit in the Columbia Plateau Regional Aquifer System were measured and evaluated to provide a regional overview of groundwater conditions in spring 2009. Water levels for the Saddle Mountains unit, the Wanapum unit, the Grande Ronde unit, and for the overlying Overburden unit were measured in 1,752 wells during spring 2009 by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and 10 other Federal, State, Tribal, and local agencies, including 66 wells located and measured by the USGS specifically for this study. These data were analyzed to determine the presence of spatial correlation of groundwater levels with distance and direction from each other. Groundwater flow in the Palouse Slope structural region showed evidence of being more continuous relative to groundwater flow in the Yakima Fold Belt, where the geologic complexity may contribute to compartmentalization of groundwater flow. This information was used to interpolate the generalized groundwater elevations for each of the basalt hydrogeologic units and to provide information on regional flow.
Water-level change maps were constructed for the three basalt hydrogeologic units and the Overburden (unconsolidated) unit. Groundwater levels measured in spring 1984 and 2009 in 470 wells were compared. Small to moderate groundwater-level declines were measured in most wells, although declines greater than 100 ft and as great as 300 ft were measured in many wells. Essentially unchanged groundwater levels were measured in other wells. Of the wells measured in 1984 and 2009, water levels declined in 83 percent of the wells, and declines greater than 25 ft were measured in 29 percent of all wells. The groundwater-level changes were greatest in the deeper hydrogeologic units. Mean groundwater-level changes ranged from a 7 ft decline for the Overburden unit to a 51 ft decline for the Grande Ronde unit. The average annual rates of groundwater-level change for the 25-year period ranged from a 0.3 ft/yr decline for the Overburden unit to a 2.0 ft/yr decline for the Grande Ronde unit.
Groundwater level declines were identified throughout the Columbia Plateau, but areas with large and widespread declines were located in the central northern part of the study area, in parts of the Yakima River basin in Washington, in the Pullman-Moscow area in Washington and Idaho, and in parts of the Umatilla River basin in Oregon. These declines are in areas known to rely heavily on groundwater for irrigation and other uses.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Groundwater Conditions During 2009 and Changes in Groundwater Levels from 1984 to 2009, Columbia Plateau Regional Aquifer System, Washington, Oregon, and Idaho