The U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with Okanogan County, investigated the hydrogeology of the unconsolidated sedimentary deposits in the Methow River Basin, the quality of surface and ground waters, and the exchanges between ground water and surface water. Alluvium (Qa) and glaciofluvial sediments (Qga) deposited during the Quaternary period constitute the primary aquifer in the Methow River Basin, which is used as a source of water for domestic and public-water supplies and for maintaining streamflow during seasonal dry periods. The sediments form a nearly continuous unit along the valley bottom from above the Lost River to the confluence of the Methow and Columbia Rivers, covering more than 45 square miles of the basin?s surface. There are no distinct units within the deposit that can be identified across or along the valley except for fragments of a possible lake bed near the town of Twisp. Ground-water levels in the unconsolidated aquifer are highest during the summer and lowest in the winter and early spring.
Ground water and surface water, sampled during June and September 2001, generally were of high quality. Only two samples from domestic and municipal wells indicated the possibility of ground-water contamination from nitrate and arsenic concentrations. In both cases, potential contamination was isolated to an individual well. No trends in water quality were apparent when comparing the results of this investigation with previous studies.
The flow of water between rivers and aquifers is important for regulating the availability of water resources for in-stream and out-of-stream uses in the Methow River Basin. Ground-water discharge from the unconsolidated aquifer to the Methow River from Lost River to Pateros ranged from an estimated 153,000 acre-ft in water year 2001 to 157,000 acre-ft in water year 2002. In contrast, ground-water discharge to the lower Twisp River from Newby Creek to near Twisp ranged from 4,700 acre-ft in water year 2001 to 9,200 acre-ft in water year 2002. The Methow and Twisp Rivers, among others in the basin, are major sources of recharge for the unconsolidated aquifer, particularly during high-flow periods in May and June. Aquifer recharge by both rivers increased with streamflow in water year 2002 compared to water year 2001 as indicated by daily losses of streamflow. Aquifer recharge by the Methow River from Lost River to Pateros was estimated to be 82,000 acre-ft in water year 2001 and 137,000 acre-ft in water year 2002. Aquifer recharge by the Twisp River from Newby Creek to near Twisp was estimated to be 2,000 acre-ft in water year 2001 and 6,400 acre-ft in water year 2002.
Seepage from unlined irrigation canals also recharges the unconsolidated aquifer during the late spring and summer and may contribute as much 38,000 acre-ft annually to aquifer recharge in the basin. Some portion of this ground water returns to rivers as indicated by a seasonal increase in ground-water discharge in the Methow River from Winthrop to Twisp and in the lower Twisp River during late summer and early autumn. Although the increase is likely due primarily to irrigation canal seepage, however, fluvial recharge during the summer also may have contributed to the increase. The increased rate of ground-water discharge decays by January in both reaches.