Geology and ground-water resources of the Douglas basin, Arizona, with a section on chemical quality of the ground water

Water Supply Paper 1354

Prepared in cooperation with Arizona State Land Department
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The Douglas basin is part of a large northwest-trending intermontane valley, known as the Sulphur Spring Valley, which lies in southeastern Arizona, and extends into northeastern Sonora, Mexico. Maturely dissected mountains rise abruptly from long alluvial slopes and culminate in peaks 3,000 to 4,000 feet above the valley floor, Bedrock in the mountain areas confines drainage on the east and west, and an arc of low hills to the north separates the basin from the Willcox basin of the Sulphur Spring Valley. Drainage of the 1,200 square miles in the Douglas basin is southward into Mexico through Whitewater Draw.

The mountains include igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary rocks ranging in age from pre-Cambrian to Tertiary, including Paleozoic and Mesozoic sedimentary rocks that total about 10,000 feet in thickness. The older rocks have been metamorphosed, and all the bedrock has been affected by igneous intrusion, largely in Mesozoic time, and by structural movements, largely in Cenozoic time and extending into the Quaternary period. By the early part of Cenozoic time the major structural features were formed, and mountain ranges had been uplifted above the valley trough along northwest-trending fault zones. Since that time the physiographic features have resulted through erosion of the mountain blocks and the deposition, in places, of more than 2,800 feet of unconsolidated rock debris in the valley.

Ground-water supplies of the Douglas basin are developed largely in the saturated zone of the valley-fill sediments. The ground water in the valley fill occurs in thin lenses and strata of sand and gravel, which are interbedded with large thicknesses of silt and day. Scattered gypsum beds and extensive caliche deposits appear at the surface and occur within the valley fill at various depths. Although the valley-fill sediments are as much as 2,800 feet thick, the uppermost 300 feet or so are the most permeable.

Ground water originates as precipitation in the mountain areas. The water collects in streams that lose much of their flow into the coarse sediments that fringe the mountains. Part of the water ultimately percolates into the zone of saturation. High evaporation rates, vegetative use, and the presence of caliche and clay at shallow depth in the interstream areas of the valley floor prevent important recharge of the ground-water reservoir from direct rainfall or seepage of water applied for irrigation. The total recharge into the ground-water reservoir of the Douglas basin was about 20,000 acre-feet in 1951.

Ground water is discharged from the basin by evapotranspiration, by effluent seepage into Whitewater Draw and underflow out of the basin, and by pumping. In 1951, the total amount of ground water discharged was about 50,000 acre-feet, of which more than 41,000 acre-feet was pumped from wells. Ground water used in excess of recharge is withdrawn from storage, causing a decline in the water table. Maximum declines have occurred in the heavily pumped Elfrida area, where a decline of more than 11 feet occurred in the 5- year period 1947-51, inclusive.

Most irrigation wells in the Douglas basin are less than 200 feet in depth and usually produce less than 400 gpm (gallons per minute). The average specific capacity of the wells is about 12 gpm per foot of drawdown. Although water in some parts of the basin is artesian, all irrigation wells must be pumped.

Ground water in the basin is generally of excellent to good quality for irrigation use, In small areas along the southern part of Whitewater Draw and east of Douglas the ground water is high in dissolved-solids content. Although most of the water is hard, it is generally satisfactory for domestic use. In many areas the fluoride content is more than 1.5 ppm (parts per million).

Study Area

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Geology and ground-water resources of the Douglas basin, Arizona, with a section on chemical quality of the ground water
Series title:
Water Supply Paper
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Government Printing Office
Publisher location:
Washington, D.C.
iv, 56 p.
United States
Other Geospatial:
Douglas Basin;Sulphur Spring Valley