Effects of well discharges on hydraulic heads in and spring discharges from the Geothermal Aquifer System in the Bruneau area, Owyhee County, southwestern Idaho

Water-Resources Investigations Report 93-4001
Prepared in cooperation with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service



Demand for ground water in the 600- square-mile Bruneau study area has increased since 1954 because of agricultural development. Declining flow at Indian Bathtub Spring is adversely affecting a unique species of snail that inhabits the spring. The Bruneau study area is underlain by sedimentary and volcanic rocks that form a regional geothermal aquifer. Sedimentary rocks range in thickness from zero in the southern part of the study area to more than 3,000 feet in the northeastern corner. Volcanic rocks underlie the entire study area and extend southward to the Jarbidge Mountains. In the central part of the study area, the volcanic rocks are probably 2,000 to 3,000 feet thick. For purposes of study, the regional geothermal aquifer system was divided into sedimentary- and volcanic-rock aquifers. Ground water flows northward through the volcanic-rock aquifer to the sedimentary- rock aquifer, from areas of recharge along the Jarbidge and Owyhee Mountains into the study area, where it is discharged as spring flow or leaves the study area as underflow. Prior to extensive ground-water development, about 10,100 acre-feet was discharged by springs. Ground-water discharge from wells began in the late 1890's. From the 1890's through 1951, annual discharge was less than 10,000 acre-feet. From 1952 to 1978, annual discharge increased to about 40,600 acre-feet. During 1978-91, well discharge declined from the maximum of 49,900 acre-feet in 1981 to 34,700 acre-feet in 1991. Through 1991, nearly 1,400,000 acre-feet of ground water discharged from wells; about 546,000 acre-feet discharged from 1978 through 1991. Most pumped water is from the volcanic-rock aquifer. Ground-water development since the mid-1890's locally has modified the direction of water movement in both the sedimentary- and volcanic-rock aquifers. In 1989, ground water moved toward four cones of depression created by pumping two in the northern part of the study area are in the sedimentary-rock aquifer, two in the southern part are in the volcanic-rock aquifer. Pumping has caused hydraulic heads in the volcanic-rock aquifer to decline more than 30 feet in much of the area and at least 70 feet in one well. About 1 mile from Indian Bathtub Spring, the water level in one well declined about 10 feet during 1979-92, or about 0.7 feet per year. Within the past 25 years, discharge from monitored springs along Hot Creek and the Bruneau River has declined, most notably from Indian Bathtub Spring. Discharge from Indian Bathtub Spring in 1964 was about 2,400 gallons per minute, and by the summer of 1989, discharge was zero. Discharge began to decline in the mid-1960's when the rate of increase in pumpage accelerated. In contrast, discharge from Pence Hot Spring has ranged from about 700 gallons per minute to about 1,100 gallons per minute. Changes in discharge from monitored springs corresponded with changes in hydraulic head, which fluctuates seasonally, and are substantially less in late summer than in the spring. A hydraulic head/spring discharge relation was developed for two sites at Indian Bathtub Spring and a nearby test hole. The relation for Indian Bathtub Spring indicated that a spring discharge of 2,400 gallons per minute would relate to a hydraulic head of about 2,708 feet at the spring, which is about 34 feet higher than the head at zero spring discharge.

Study Area

Additional publication details

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Effects of well discharges on hydraulic heads in and spring discharges from the Geothermal Aquifer System in the Bruneau area, Owyhee County, southwestern Idaho
Series title Water-Resources Investigations Report
Series number 93-4001
DOI 10.3133/wri934001
Year Published 1993
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Contributing office(s) Idaho Water Science Center
Description v, 58 p.
Country United States
State Idaho
County Owyhee County
Other Geospatial Bruneau Area
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