Ground-water resources of the Ainsworth unit, Cherry and Brown Counties, Nebraska

Water Supply Paper 1371

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The Ainsworth unit, so named by the U. S. Bureau of Reclamation, is in north-central Nebraska and is in the drainage basin of the Niobrara River. It is an area of about 1,000 square miles in the east-central part of Cherry County and northern part of Brown County. The east-west length of the area is about 60 miles and the width ranges from 9 to 21 miles. About 80 percent of the area consists of grass-covered sandhills; the remainder is the Ainsworth tableland, which is flat to gently rolling farmland between Plum and Long Pine Creeks in the eastern part of the area. The average annual precipitation is about 23 inches. Although most of the C).ops are raised by dry-farming methods, some farmland is irrigated with water pumped from wells. The U. S. Bureau of Reclamation has proposed to irrigate much of the Ainsworth tableland with surface water to be stored in a reservoir on the Snake River at the west border of the Ainsworth unit. The rocks exposed in the Ainsworth unit range in age from Tertiary (Pliocene) to Quaternary (Recent). The Ogallala formation of Pliocene age is exposed along the lower part of the Snake River valley and underlies the entire Ainsworth unit. It is composed of silt, sand, and gravel, and contains layers of sandstone and conglomerate, much of which is cross bedded and cemented with lime; coarser sediments generally are more prominent in the lower part. Overlying the Ogallala formation are deposits of Pleistocene age consisting in part of layers of saturated sand and gravel which are the most important sources of ground water in the Ainsworth unit. Throughout most of the area the ground water is under watertable conditions, but locally it is confined by lenses of clay or silty clay. Some wells tap only the sand and gravel of Pleistocene age, some tap both the deposits of Pleistocene age and the underlying Ogallala formation, and some tap only the Ogallala formation; no wells are known to extend into rocks older than the Ogallala. Dune sand mantles the deposits of Pleistocene age in about 80 percent of the Ainsworth unit and a thin deposit of loess covers the surface elsewhere. Terrace deposits border the flood plain of the principal streams, and alluvium underlies the flood plain of most of the stream valleys in the area. Precipitation and underflow from the southwest are the principal sources of the ground water in the Ainsworth unit. As most of the precipitation in the sandhills evaporates, is utilized by growing plants, or penetrates to the zone of saturation, the overland runoff from this part of the area is small. In the vicinity of Ainsworth a minor amount of recharge probably is derived from the return of irrigation water pumped from wells. Where the water table is near the surface in the valleys of the sandhills, ground water is discharged directly from the zone of saturation to the atmosphere by evapotranspiration; and, as the surface of the lakes in the sandhills area is an extension of the water table, evaporation from the lake surface also constitutes ground-water discharge. In addition, ground water is discharged by the streams that are incised below the water table and by subsurface outflow. The yield of wells accounts for only a small part of the discharge of ground water from the area. In the Ainsworth unit the water table slopes northeastward from the region of favorable recharge, the sandhills, toward the Niobrara River and its principal tributaries. The average gradient of the water table is about 10 feet per mile. In the sandhills the water table is at or near the surface in the valleys and as much as 100 feet, or a little more, beneath the higher sandhills. In the vicinity of Ainsworth the water level in wells ranges from less than 1 foot to about 40 feet below the land surface, but nearer the Niobrara River and close to its deeply entrenched tributaries the depth to the water table is as much as, or a little more than, 200 feet. The coefficient of transmissibility of the gr

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USGS Numbered Series
Ground-water resources of the Ainsworth unit, Cherry and Brown Counties, Nebraska
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Water Supply Paper
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U.S. G.P.O.,
v, 120 p. :ill., maps ;24 cm. + plates folded in pocket.