In 1978 the U.S. Geological Survey began a 5-year study of the High Plains regional aquifer system to provide hydrologic information for evaluating the effects of long-term development of the aquifer and to develop a capability for predicting aquifer response to alternative changes in ground-water management. By use of a digital model, this report presents a quantitative description of the High Plains aquifer in Oklahoma.
The High Plains aquifer consists predominantly of the Tertiary Ogallala Formation and overlying Quaternary alluvium and terrace deposits which are hydraulically connected to the High Plains aquifer. Much of the aquifer is underlain by formations of Permian through Cretaceous age, which generally have very small hydraulic conductivities. In some areas parts of underlying Triassic, Jurassic, or Cretaceous rocks are hydraulically connected with the aquifer. The High Plains aquifer is a water-table aquifer in which water moves generally to the east-southeast. Before the beginning of extensive irrigation of the 1960's, the aquifer was essentially in dynamic equilibrium with recharge from precipitation balanced by natural discharge from the aquifer. Ground-water discharge appeared in streams leaving the area or was returned to the atmosphere through evapotranspiration.
Accurate records of irrigation pumpage are not available from the High Plains. In order to estimate irrigation pumpage, published records of crop distribution were used and a consumptive use was assigned to each principal irrigated crop. This method gave an estimated irrigation demand. Pumpage was taken as a percentage of the total irrigation demand. Irrigation has decreased ground-water discharge from the High Plains aquifer. Ground-water discharge was estimated as approximately 118 cubic feet per second in 1980.
A finite-difference digital model was used to simulate flow in the High Plains aquifer. The recharge was adjusted so that 1980 ground-water discharge was 118 cubic feet per second, the estimated ground-water discharge for 1980. Recharge in the eastern half of the modeled area was 0.45 inch per year; one-half this value was used in the western half of the modeled area. Hydraulic conductivity was divided into three zones: 19.3 feet per day in the eastern zone; 16.2 feet per day in the central zone; and 8.28 feet per day in the western zone. A specific yield of 14.7 percent was used in the model. Using all these parameters, the model was calibrated so that the mean difference between predevelopment modeled and measured head was -0.044 foot.
Following the calibration procedure, the model was used to predict the volumes of water in storage and distribution of saturated thickness in 1993 and 2020 using the 1980 pumping rates. The calculated quantity of water in storage in the aquifer in 1941 (predevelopment) was approximately 135.2 million acre-feet; in 1980, approximately 121.9 million acre-feet; in 1993 approximately 112.7 million acre-feet; and in 2020, approximately 96.2 million acre-feet.
The High Plains aquifer in Oklahoma will continue to be an important source of water past the year 2000. As withdrawals continue from the aquifer at the present rate, the water table will continue to decline and when the water table drops below the streambed in any part of the area, ground-water discharge to streams will cease in that area. Based on the calculated volumes of water in storage, the volume of water remaining in storage as compared to the predevelopment volume is as follows: 90 percent in 1980, 83 percent in 1993, and 71 percent in 2020.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Water-table contours, directions of ground-water movement, and measurements of inflow to American Falls Reservoir, Southeastern Idaho, April 1984
Water-Resources Investigations Report
1 map ; 54 x 65 cm., on sheet 68 x 92 cm., folded in envelope 31 x 23 cm.