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Hydrogeologic framework and selected components of the groundwater budget for the upper Umatilla River Basin, Oregon

Scientific Investigations Report 2017-5020

Prepared in cooperation with Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation
By:
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https://doi.org/10.3133/sir20175020

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Executive Summary

This report presents a summary of the hydrogeology of the upper Umatilla River Basin, Oregon, based on characterization of the hydrogeologic framework, horizontal and vertical directions of groundwater flow, trends in groundwater levels, and components of the groundwater budget. The conceptual model of the groundwater flow system integrates available data and information on the groundwater resources of the upper Umatilla River Basin and provides insights regarding key hydrologic processes, such as the interaction between the groundwater and surface water systems and the hydrologic budget.

The conceptual groundwater model developed for the study area divides the groundwater flow system into five hydrogeologic units: a sedimentary unit, three Columbia River basalt units, and a basement rock unit. The sedimentary unit, which is not widely used as a source of groundwater in the upper basin, is present primarily in the lowlands and consists of conglomerate, loess, silt and sand deposits, and recent alluvium. The Columbia River Basalt Group is a series of Miocene flood basalts that are present throughout the study area. The basalt is uplifted in the southeastern half of the study area, and either underlies the sedimentary unit, or is exposed at the surface. The interflow zones of the flood basalts are the primary aquifers in the study area. Beneath the flood basalts are basement rocks composed of Paleogene to Pre-Tertiary sedimentary, volcanic, igneous, and metamorphic rocks that are not used as a source of groundwater in the upper Umatilla River Basin.

The major components of the groundwater budget in the upper Umatilla River Basin are (1) groundwater recharge, (2) groundwater discharge to surface water and wells, (3) subsurface flow into and out of the basin, and (4) changes in groundwater storage.

Recharge from precipitation occurs primarily in the upland areas of the Blue Mountains. Mean annual recharge from infiltration of precipitation for the upper Umatilla River Basin during 1951–2010 is about 9.6 inches per year (in/yr). Annual recharge from precipitation for water year 2010 ranged from 3 in. in the lowland area to about 30 in. in the Blue Mountains. Using Kahle and others (2011) data and methods from the Columbia Plateau regional model, average annual recharge from irrigation is estimated to be about 2.2 in/yr for the 13 square miles of irrigated land in the upper Umatilla River Basin.

Groundwater discharges to streams throughout the year and is a large component of annual streamflow in the upper Umatilla River Basin. Upward vertical hydraulic gradients near the Umatilla River indicate the potential for groundwater discharge. Groundwater discharge to the Umatilla River generally occurs in the upper part of the basin, upstream from the main stem.

Groundwater development in the upper Umatilla River Basin began sometime after 1950 (Davies-Smith and others, 1988; Gonthier and Bolke, 1991). By water year 2010, groundwater use in the upper Umatilla River Basin was approximately 11,214 acre-feet (acre-ft). Total groundwater withdrawals for the study area were estimated at 7,575 acre-ft for irrigation, 3,173 acre-ft for municipal use, and 466 acre-ft for domestic use.

Total groundwater flow into or from the study area depends locally on geology and hydraulic head distribution. Estimates of subsurface flow were calculated using the U.S. Geological Survey Columbia Plateau regional groundwater flow model. Net flux values range from 25,000 to 27,700 acre-ft per year and indicate that groundwater is moving out of the upper Umatilla River Basin into the lower Umatilla River Basin.

Water level changes depend on storage changes within an aquifer, and storage changes depend on the storage properties of the aquifer, as well as recharge to or discharge from the aquifer. Groundwater level data in the upper Umatilla River Basin are mostly available from wells in Columbia River basalt units, which indicate areas of long-term water level declines in the Grande Ronde basalt unit near Pendleton and Athena, Oregon. Groundwater levels in the Wanapum basalt unit do not show long-term declines in the upper Umatilla River Basin. Because of pumping, some areas in the upper Umatilla River Basin have shown a decrease, or reversal, in the upward vertical head gradient.

Key data needs are improvement of the spatial and temporal distribution of water-level data collection and continued monitoring of streamflow gaging sites. Additionally, refinement of recharge estimates would enhance understanding of the processes that provide the groundwater resources in the upper Umatilla River Basin.

Suggested Citation

Herrera, N.B., Ely, Kate, Mehta, Smita, Stonewall, A.J., Risley, J.C., Hinkle, S.R., and Conlon, T.D., 2017, Hydrogeologic framework and selected components of the groundwater budget for the upper Umatilla River Basin, Oregon: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2017–5020, 57 p., https://doi.org/10.3133/sir20175020.

ISSN: 2328-0328 (online)

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Hydrogeologic Framewor
  • Groundwater Elevations and Flow Directions
  • Trends in Groundwater Levels
  • Groundwater Budget
  • Data Needs
  • Acknowledgments
  • References Cited
  • Appendixes A–C

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Report
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Title:
Hydrogeologic framework and selected components of the groundwater budget for the upper Umatilla River Basin, Oregon
Series title:
Scientific Investigations Report
Series number:
2017-5020
DOI:
10.3133/sir20175020
Year Published:
2017
Language:
English
Publisher:
U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Reston, VA
Contributing office(s):
Oregon Water Science Center
Description:
vi, 57 p.
Country:
United States
State:
Oregon
Other Geospatial:
Upper Umatilla River Basin
Online Only (Y/N):
Y