Geologic and Hydrogeologic Characteristics of the White River Formation, Lance Formation, and Fox Hills Sandstone, Northern Greater Denver Basin, Southeastern Laramie County, Wyoming

Scientific Investigations Report 2021-5020
Prepared in cooperation with the Wyoming State Engineer’s Office
By: , and 

Links

  • Document: Report (26.8 MB pdf)
  • Plate: Plate (2.01 MB pdf) — Construction of monitoring wells BR–1, LN–1, and FH–1, and geophysical logs, generalized lithology, and interpreted lithostratigraphy for exploratory borehole LC–F1, southeastern Laramie County, Wyoming
  • Appendix: Table 1.1 (588 kB pdf) — Description of core collected from exploratory borehole LC–F1, southeastern Laramie County, Wyoming
  • Dataset: U.S. Geological Survey National Water Information System database — USGS groundwater data for Wyoming, in USGS water data for the Nation
  • Data Release: USGS Data Release — Atmospheric-loading frequency response functions and groundwater levels filtered for the effects of atmospheric loading and solid Earth tides for three USGS monitoring wells, southeastern Laramie County, Wyoming, 2014–2017
  • Download citation as: RIS | Dublin Core

Abstract

In cooperation with the Wyoming State Engineer’s Office, the U.S. Geological Survey studied the geologic and hydrogeologic characteristics of Cenozoic and Upper Cretaceous strata at a location in southeastern Laramie County within the Wyoming part of the Cheyenne Basin, the northern subbasin of the greater Denver Basin. The study aimed to improve understanding of the aquifers/aquifer systems in these strata, motivated in part by declining groundwater levels and interest in exploring future groundwater supplies. Based on detailed geologic characterization using information obtained by drilling and coring a 960-foot-(ft) deep exploratory borehole, and comparisons with previously published descriptions, identified Cenozoic lithostratigraphic units included 40 ft of Quaternary older alluvial fan deposits consisting of an unconsolidated mixture of sand and gravel with lesser quantities of silt and clay in varying proportions and the underlying 407.3-ft-thick White River Formation of late Eocene-Oligocene age consisting largely of mudrocks with sparse thin beds of sandstone, muddy gravel, and conglomeratic mudrocks. Identified Upper Cretaceous lithostratigraphic units included the 351.6-ft-thick Lance Formation, consisting of terrestrial sedimentary rocks including mudrocks (muddy shale and silty and sandy shale, siltstone, claystone, and mudstone) interbedded with much smaller quantities of very fine- to medium-grained muddy and silty sandstone and coal; the 79.6-ft-thick Fox Hills Sandstone, consisting of a transitional marine sequence of muddy or silty sandstone present in five individual beds; and 86.7 ft of the upper transition member of the Pierre Shale, consisting largely of marine sedimentary rocks such as muddy shale. Beds of the upper and lower Fox Hills Sandstone were separated by tongues of the Lance Formation and upper transition member of the Pierre Shale, respectively.

The White River hydrogeologic unit, consisting of the entire White River Formation or Group at the study site, did not contain any substantial secondary permeability features in the mudrocks that composed almost all the unit. A monitoring well (BR–1) was completed in the White River aquifer with the well screen open to the only coarse-grained unit (muddy sandstone) that had sufficient thickness and permeability to be considered as an aquifer. Sampling of the well for a broad suite of constituents indicated groundwater generally was of excellent quality except dissolved arsenic was detected at a concentration greater than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Maximum Contaminant Level, and dissolved sodium was measured at a concentration greater than several EPA Drinking Water Advisory Levels (DWAs) for the constituent. Well development, well purging for groundwater sampling, and calculated aquifer properties indicated the sandstone aquifer screened by monitoring well BR–1 was not very productive. Analysis of the well water-level responses in BR–1 to atmospheric loading and Earth tides indicated the responses were consistent with a confined-aquifer response with wellbore-storage effects. Hydraulic properties estimated based on these responses yielded values of hydraulic conductivity (K, 0.057 foot per day [ft/d]), specific storage (Ss, 1.6×10−6 per foot [ft−1]) and porosity (n, 0.43). Water levels filtered to remove the effects of atmospheric loading and Earth tides indicated an upward trend (+1.13 foot per year [ft/yr]) during the period analyzed, September 5, 2014, to September 30, 2017.

Lithologic characteristics of the Lance hydrogeologic unit, consisting of the entire Lance Formation at the study site, indicated a potential aquifer in a “sandy” interval in the upper part of the unit. Most of the Lance hydrogeologic unit below the “sandy” interval consisted of various low-permeability lithologies unlikely to yield substantial quantities of water. This lower part of the hydrogeologic unit likely functions as a confining unit separating the underlying Lance-Fox Hills aquifer. A geologic cross section constructed for this study indicated fine-grained sediments composed most of the Lance Formation/hydrogeologic unit not only at the study location, but also throughout southern Laramie County along the line of section and throughout the Wyoming and Colorado parts of the Cheyenne Basin. A monitoring well (LN–1) completed in a sandstone bed in the “sandy” interval of the Lance hydrogeologic unit produced a mean of about 23 gallons per minute (gal/min) during well development, indicating sandstone beds can form moderately productive confined subaquifers in this part of the hydrogeologic unit. Analysis of the well water-level responses in well LN–1 to atmospheric loading and Earth tides indicated the responses were consistent with a confined-aquifer response. Hydraulic properties estimated based on these responses yielded values for a lower bounding K of 0.60 ft/d, Ss of 1.6×10−6 ft−1, and n of 0.38. Water levels filtered to remove the effects of atmospheric loading and Earth tides indicated a downward trend (−0.86 ft/yr) during the period analyzed (November 8, 2014, to September 30, 2017). Analyses for a broad suite of constituents in samples from well LN–1 indicated groundwater quality generally was excellent, although dissolved sodium was measured at a concentration greater than two EPA DWA levels for the constituent.

Because of the absence of any overlying or intertonguing sandstone beds belonging to the lower/basal part of the Lance Formation, the Lance-Fox Hills aquifer at the study site consisted only of the five sandstone beds of the Fox Hills Sandstone. The cross section constructed for this study illustrated how the Fox Hills Sandstone, and thus, most of the Lance-Fox Hills aquifer, consists of a series of sandstone bodies that overlap (shingle) upward to the east across southern Laramie County. These bodies collectively form a fairly continuous body of sandstone, thus potentially forming an areally extensive aquifer across southern Laramie County, and by extension, throughout most of the formation’s extent in the Wyoming part of the Cheyenne Basin, as is the case in the Colorado part of the basin. A monitoring well (FH–1) completed in part of the thickest sandstone bed of the Lance-Fox Hills aquifer was moderately to highly productive and easily produced 25 to 30 gal/min after development. Substantially larger water production rates likely could be obtained by penetrating the full thickness of this bed and by completing a well open to the other overlying and underlying sandstone beds of the aquifer. Analysis of the water-level responses in well FH–1 to atmospheric loading and Earth tides indicated the responses were consistent with a confined-aquifer response. Hydraulic properties computed based on these responses yielded values for a lower bounding estimate for K of 0.26 ft/d, for Ss of 1.0×10−6 ft−1, and for n of 0.41. Water levels filtered to remove the effects of atmospheric loading and Earth tides indicated a downward trend (−1.74 ft/yr) during the period analyzed, December 19, 2014, to September 30, 2017. Sampling of monitoring well FH–1 and two production wells completed in the Fox Hills Sandstone in other parts of Laramie County indicated groundwater quality generally is excellent, although pH exceeded a recommended EPA aesthetic drinking-water standard (Secondary Maximum Contaminant Level) in two of three sampled wells, total dissolved solids concentrations exceeded the Secondary Maximum Contaminant Level in one of the two sampled production wells, and dissolved sodium was measured in all three sampled wells at a concentration greater than two EPA DWA levels for the constituent. The Wyoming Class II agricultural (irrigation) sodium adsorption ratio standard of 8 was exceeded in all three sampled wells, indicating these waters are not suitable for irrigation use.

Computed vertical hydraulic gradients indicated a strong potential for downward flow throughout the groundwater system at the study site, including from the low-yielding aquifer in the upper White River Formation/hydrogeologic unit (monitoring well BR–1) to the sandstone subaquifer in the Lance Formation/hydrogeologic unit (monitoring well LN–1), and from the Lance subaquifer (monitoring well LN–1) to the sandstone bed/aquifer that composes much of the Lance-Fox Hills aquifer thickness at the study site (monitoring well FH–1). However, large hydraulic-head differences between wells indicated high resistance to vertical flow attributable to the low vertical hydraulic conductivity of intervening strata, which consisted almost entirely of low-permeability mudrocks. The confined nature of the sandstone aquifers monitored by the various wells coupled with dissimilarities between groundwater-level fluctuations and trends in groundwater levels indicated downward flow through the intervening strata (primarily mudrocks in the various lithostratigraphic/hydrogeologic units) between the examined sets of wells likely was small.

Suggested Citation

Bartos, T.T., Galloway, D.L., Hallberg, L.L., Dechesne, M., Diehl, S.F., and Davidson, S.L., 2021, Geologic and hydrogeologic characteristics of the White River Formation, Lance Formation, and Fox Hills Sandstone, northern greater Denver Basin, southeastern Laramie County, Wyoming: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2021–5020, 219 p., 1 pl., https://doi.org/10.3133/sir20215020.

ISSN: 2328-0328 (online)

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgments
  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Purpose and Scope
  • Description of Study Area
  • Geologic Setting of Study Area
  • Groundwater Resources in Study Area
  • Methods of Study
  • Geologic Characteristics of Study Site Strata
  • Hydrogeologic Characteristics of Study Site Strata
  • Summary
  • References Cited
  • Appendix 1
  • Appendix 2
  • References Cited
  • Appendix 3
Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Geologic and hydrogeologic characteristics of the White River Formation, Lance Formation, and Fox Hills Sandstone, northern greater Denver Basin, southeastern Laramie County, Wyoming
Series title Scientific Investigations Report
Series number 2021-5020
DOI 10.3133/sir20215020
Year Published 2021
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) WY-MT Water Science Center
Description Report: xvii, 219 p.; Appendix Table; Plate: 42.00 x 63.00 inches; Data Release; Dataset
Country United States
State Wyoming
County Laramie County
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Additional Online Files (Y/N) Y
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details