The Lost Creek Designated Ground Water Basin (Lost Creek basin) is an important alluvial aquifer for irrigation, public supply, and domestic water uses in northeastern Colorado. Beginning in 2005, the U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Lost Creek Ground Water Management District and the Colorado Water Conservation Board, collected hydrologic data and constructed a steady-state numerical groundwater flow model of the Lost Creek basin. The model builds upon the work of previous investigators to provide an updated tool for simulating the potential effects of various hydrologic stresses on groundwater flow and evaluating possible aquifer-management strategies.
As part of model development, the thickness and extent of regolith sediments in the basin were mapped, and data were collected concerning aquifer recharge beneath native grassland, nonirrigated agricultural fields, irrigated agricultural fields, and ephemeral stream channels. The thickness and extent of regolith in the Lost Creek basin indicate the presence of a 2- to 7-mile-wide buried paleovalley that extends along the Lost Creek basin from south to north, where it joins the alluvial valley of the South Platte River valley. Regolith that fills the paleovalley is as much as about 190 ft thick. Average annual recharge from infiltration of precipitation on native grassland and nonirrigated agricultural fields was estimated by using the chloride mass-balance method to range from 0.1 to 0.6 inch, which represents about 1-4 percent of long-term average precipitation. Average annual recharge from infiltration of ephemeral streamflow was estimated by using apparent downward velocities of chloride peaks to range from 5.7 to 8.2 inches. Average annual recharge beneath irrigated agricultural fields was estimated by using passive-wick lysimeters and a water-balance approach to range from 0 to 11.3 inches, depending on irrigation method, soil type, crop type, and the net quantity of irrigation water applied. Estimated average annual recharge beneath irrigated agricultural fields represents about 0-43 percent of net irrigation.
The U.S. Geological Survey modular groundwater modeling program, MODFLOW-2000, was used to develop a steady-state groundwater flow model of the Lost Creek basin. Groundwater in the basin is simulated generally to flow from the basin margins toward the center of the basin and northward along the paleovalley. The largest source of inflow to the model occurs from recharge beneath flood- and sprinkler-irrigated agricultural fields (14,510 acre-feet per year [acre-ft/yr]), which represents 39.7 percent of total simulated inflow. Other substantial sources of inflow to the model are recharge from precipitation and stream-channel infiltration in nonirrigated areas (13,810 acre-ft/yr) seepage from Olds Reservoir (4,280 acre-ft/yr), and subsurface inflow from ditches and irrigated fields outside the model domain (2,490 acre-ft/yr), which contribute 37.7, 11.7, and 6.8 percent, respectively, of total inflow. The largest outflow from the model occurs from irrigation well withdrawals (26,760 acre-ft/yr), which represent 73.2 percent of total outflow. Groundwater discharge (6,640 acre-ft/yr) at the downgradient end of the Lost Creek basin represents 18.2 percent of total outflow, and evapotranspiration (3,140 acre-ft/yr) represents about 8.6 percent of total outflow.