This report describes an area of about 7,300 square miles in south-central Nebraska. Approximately one-fourth of the area, largely at its east end, consists of an undissected southeastward-sloping upland plain and is almost wholly irrigable; the remainder is in various stages of dissection and only parts of it are suitable for irrigation. Although some of the deeper lying bedrock formations are potential sources of water supply, they are not likely to be tapped in the near future because abundant supplies are available at shallower depth from semiconsolidated and unconsolidated deposits.
The Ogallala formation of Tertiary (Pliocene) age consists of gravel, sand, silt, and volcanic ash, some layers of which are partly cemented. It was deposited by eastward-flowing streams, which formed a constructional plain above a surface into which the streams had previously eroded broad valleys. In turn, valleys were cut into the surface of the Ogallala before the overlying deposits of gravel, sand, silt, and clay of Quaternary (Pleistocene) age were laid down, also forming a constructional plain. During Recent time, streams have dissected the older deposits and have deposited thin alluvium in their valleys; also, several parts of the area have become mantled by wind-deposited sand. Because during Tertiary and Quaternary time the area repeatedly was the site of deposition and erosion, the thickness of all the stratigraphic units differs markedly from place to place. In general, however, the Ogallala formation thins eastward and in the central and eastern parts of the area is overlain by the eastward-thickening deposits of Pleistocene age. The maximum thickness of the Ogallala formation is about 500 feet, and the maximum thickness of the Pleistocene deposits is a little more than 300 feet. Each thins to a featheredge and is completely absent in parts of the area.
The water-bearing part of the combined Tertiary and Pleistocene deposits is considered to be a single zone of saturation because the ground water, as it percolates southeastward beneath the area, moves out of the Tertiary and into the Quaternary deposits without apparent hindrance. The water that enters the area as underflow from the west is augmented within the area by water that infiltrates from the land surface. The principal sources of irrigating water are precipitation, seepage from canals and reservoirs, and applied irrigation water. Except for the water withdrawn through wells or discharged by natural processes where valleys have been cut into the zone of saturation, ground water leaves the area as underflow into the Platte River valley on the north, the Blue River drainage basin on the east, or the Republican River valley on the south.
Part of the water used for irrigation and watering livestock and all the water used in rural and urban homes, in public buildings, and for industrial purposes is obtained from wells, To date (1952) there is no indication that the supply of ground water is being depleted faster than it is being replenished; instead, studies indicate that greater quantities can be withdrawn without causing an excessive decline of the water table. An increase of ground-water withdrawals to a sustainable maximum, however, will be possible only if the points of withdrawal are scattered fairly uniformly. It is estimated that annual withdrawals per township should not exceed 2,100 acre-feet where infiltrating precipitation is the only source of recharge, or 3,000 acre-feet where other sources of recharge are significant. Although perennial withdrawals of this amount could be sustained indefinitely, they would cause some lowering of the water table and eventually a decrease in the amount of water discharged from the area by natural means.
The ground water is of the calcium bicarbonate type. In much of the area it is hard or very hard, and in places it contains excessive amounts of iron. In all other respects the water is chemically suitable for domesti