Ground-water resources of Riverton irrigation project area, Wyoming

Water Supply Paper 1375
Prepared as part of a program of the Department of the Interior for development of the Missouri River basin
By: , and 



The Riverton irrigation project area is in the northwestern part of the Wind River basin in west-central Wyoming. Because the annual precipitation is only about 9 inches, agriculture, which is the principal occupation in the area, is dependent upon irrigation. Irrigation by surface-water diversion was begum is 1906; water is now supplied to 77,716 acres and irrigation has been proposed for an additional 31,344 acres. This study of the geology and ground-water resources of the Riverton irrigation project, of adjacent irrigated land, and of nearby land proposed for irrigation was begun during the summer of 1948 and was completed in 1951. The purpose of the investigation was to evaluate the ground-water resources of the area and to study the factors that should be considered in the solution of drainage and erosional problems within the area. The Riverton irrigation project area is characterized by flat to gently sloping stream terraces, which are flanked by a combination of badlands, pediment slopes, and broad valleys. These features were formed by long-continued erosion in an arid climate of the essentially horizontal, poorly consolidated beds of the Wind River formation. The principal streams of the area flow south-eastward. Wind River and Fivemile Creek are perennial streams and the others are intermittent. Ground-water discharge and irrigation return flow have created a major problem in erosion control along Fivemile Creek. Similar conditions might develop along Muddy and lower Cottonwood Creeks when land in their drainage basins is irrigated. The bedrock exposed in the area ranges in age from Late Cretaceous to early Tertiary (middle Eocene). The Wind River formation of early and middle Eocene age forms the uppermost bedrock formation in the greater part of the area. Unconsolidated deposits of Quaternary age, which consist of terrace gravel, colluvium, eolian sand and silt. and alluvium, mantle the Wind River formation in much of the area. In the irrigated parts of the project, water from domestic use is obtained chiefly from the sandstone beds of the Wind River formation although some is obtained from the alluvium underlying the bottom land and from the unconsolidated deposits underlying the lower terraces along the Wind River. Although adequate quantities if water for domestic use are available from the Wind River formation, there quantities are not considered to be large enough to warrant pumping of ground water for irrigation. Only a few wells are in the nonirrigated part of the area. When this new land is irrigated, a body of ground water will gradually form in the terrace deposits and the alluvial and colluvial-alluvial deposits. Eventually, the terrace deposits may yield adequate quantities of water for domestic and stock use, but only locally are the alluvial and colluvial-alluvial deposits likely to become suitable aquifers. In the Riverton irrigation project area, ground water occurs under water-table conditions near the surface and under artesian conditions in certain strata at both shallow and greater depths. Irrigation is the principal source of recharge to the shallow aquifers; the water level in wells that tap these aquifers fluctuates with irrigation. The depth to water in the shallow wells ranges from less than 1 foot to about 30 feet below the land surface, depending on the season of the year and on the length of time the land has been irrigated. The water level in the wells that tap the deep confined aquifers , which receive recharge indirectly from surface sources, fluctuates only slightly because the recharge and discharge are more constant. In most places the depth to water in wells penetrating the deep confined aquifers is mush greater than that in shallow wells. but in certain low areas water from the deep aquifers flows at the surface from wells. Ground water moves from the area of recharge in the direction of the hydraulic gradient and is discharges either by evapotranspiration; by inflow into streams, drains, or lakes; by pumping or flow of wells; or by flow of springs. Waterlogging and the associated development of saline soils are common in parts of the Riverton irrigation project and adjacent irrigated land. The waterlogging is in part the result of the infiltration of irrigation water in excess of the capacity of the aquifers to store and transmit this added recharge. The solution of the drainage problems involves the consideration of a number of factors, some of which are inadequately known in some parts of the area and require further investigation before fully effective drainage measures can be designed. The results of an aquifer test to determine the hydrologic characteristics of the Wind River formation at Riverton indicate a transmissibility of 10,000 gallons per day per foot (10,000 gpd per ft) and a storage coefficient of 2 x 10-4. The results of the test provide a part of the necessary foundation for the solution of present and future water-supply problems at Riverton and throughout the project area. Water from shallow aquifers in irrigated tracts in the Riverton irrigation project area generally contains large amounts of dissolved solids that were leached from the soil and rocks by infiltrating irrigation water. However, wells tapping beds that receive considerable recharge from influent canal and drain seepage yield water of relatively low mineralizatoin. Dilute water is obtained also from some shallow wells in the alluvial bottom lands and on low stream terraces that border the Wind Rover. Water from deep aquifers generally is more dilute than that from shallow aquifers. However, ground water from the deep aquifers, unmixed with irrigation water, generally has a percent sodium greater than 80. Analyses of salt crusts on the ground surface in low areas that are affected by effluent seepage and a high water table show predominance of sodium sulfate salinity, and from determinations of the water-soluble and acid-soluble substances in several samples of soil and shale it is apparent that harmful concentrations of salts are being deposited in poorly drained area. Although most of the soul in the Midvale irrigation district is of the normal arid type, analyses of soil samples show that saline, nonsaline alkaline, and saline alkaline types also are present.

Study Area

Additional publication details

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Ground-water resources of Riverton irrigation project area, Wyoming
Series title Water Supply Paper
Series number 1375
DOI 10.3133/wsp1375
Year Published 1959
Language English
Publisher U.S. Government Printing Office
Publisher location Washington
Description Report: vi, 205 p.; 1 Plate: 25.76 x 12.82 inches
Country United States
State Wyoming
County Freemont County
Other Geospatial Wind River Basin