Water resources of the Green Bay area, Wisconsin: G in Water resources of industrial regions: A summary of the source, occurrence, availability, and use of water in the area

Water Supply Paper 1499-G

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The Green Bay area comprises an area of about 525 square miles in eastern Wisconsin at the south end of Green Bay. It includes the western three-fourths of Brown County and the eastern one-ninth of Outagamie County. In 1960, the population of the area was estimated at 124,000.

The most prominent topographic feature is the northwest-facing, southwestward trending Niagara escarpment. The area northwest of the escarpment drains into Green Bay via the Fox River, Suamico River, Duck Creek, and their tributaries. The area southeast of the escarpment is drained by streams that flow into Lake Michigan.

The chief sources of surface water in the Green Bay area are the Fox River, Green Bay, and Lake Michigan. Smaller amounts of water are available from the East and Suamico Rivers and other streams. A sandstone aquifer is the principal source of the ground-water supply. The Niagara dolomite, although largely undeveloped, is potentially an important aquifer in the eastern part of the area. Small amounts of water are obtained also from the Platteville formation and from deposits of Pleistocene and Recent age. Water from the surfaceand ground-water sources is moderately hard to very hard.

The Fox River, tributary to Lake Michigan at Green Bay, is a significant source of water for industrial use in the Green Bay area. The Menasha Dam, which controls release of water from the Lake Winnebago pool, is the major regulation on the Fox River, and it has considerable effect in reducing peak flows and supplementing low flows in the lower Fox River. The average discharge of the lower Fox River for the period 1898-1959, as measured at the gaging station at Rapide Croche Dam, was 2,687 mgd (million gallons per day). The longest consecutive period during which the discharge averaged less than 500 mgd was 80 days. The average discharge can be expected to fall below 700 mgd about once every 5 years for a 7-day period. In 1959, the average withdrawal of water from the Fox River was about 62 mgd. The water in the river is of the calcium magnesium bicarbonate type and is hard.

The small streams in the area are utilized chiefly for stock watering; some of the water, however, is used for irrigation. The water in the small streams is more highly mineralized than the water in the Fox River and is very hard.

Large quantities of water are available from Green Bay, but the disposal of industrial waste into the bay has restricted the use of the water. The major withdrawal is for condenser cooling, and, in 1959, it averaged about 415 mgd. The water from Green Bay is moderately hard but is of better chemical quality than the water from the Fox River and the small streams in the area.

The only withdrawals of water from Lake Michigan for use in the Green Bay area are made by the city of Green Bay. In 1959, these withdrawals averaged 7.8 mgd.

The lower Fox River is not subject to extremes of flow owing to the dampening effect of the Lake Winnebago pool and the regulation of flow at Menasha Dam. Cloudbursts over the lower Fox River valley below Menasha Dam, however, have occasionally caused extremely high water, as in 1922, when the discharge at the mouth of the Fox River was estimated to be about 50,000 mgd. Daily discharges greater than about 13,000 mgd occurred only 7 times in the period 1918-59. The 50-year flood of 15,500 mgd represents an average runoff of less than 2.6 mgd per square mile of drainage area, a relatively low runoff for a 50-year flood in Wisconsin.

The sandstone aquifer is the principal source of ground water in the Green Bay area and furnishes water for public supply and industrial use. This aquifer includes rocks of Late Cambrian age, and the Prairie du Chien group and St. Peter sandstone of Ordovician age; it ranges in thickness from 550 to 640 feet. Ground water is found in openings along fractures and bedding planes and in the interstices between sand grains.

The sandstone aquifer can support additional development of large supplies of ground water. Wells can be developed in most of the area that will yield 500 gpm (gallons per minute) or more, provided they are properly spaced and penetrate the entire thickness of the aquifer. It is estimated that the perennial yield of the sandstone in the Green Bay area could be at least 30 mgd if the aquifer is properly developed; only 5.4 mgd was withdrawn in 1959. The water from this sandstone aquifer is of the calcium magnesium bicarbonate type, is very hard, and, at a few places, contains objectionable amounts of iron.

The Niagara dolomite, potentially a source of moderate to large quantities of water in the eastern part of the area, probably will yield 500 gpm or more to wells.

In 1959, the average withdrawal of water for all uses was estimated at 495 mgd, of which 98.2 percent was from surface-water sources and 1.8 percent was from wells. About 485 mgd of water was withdrawn for industrial use, 6 mgd for public supply, and 4 mgd for rural use. The industrial use of water averaged 441 mgd for condenser cooling, 38 mgd fot processing by the paper industry, and 6 mgd for other industrial uses. The city of Green Bay used 7.8 mgd of water from Lake Michigan; other public supplies in the area used 2.6 mgd from wells. Of the withdrawals of water for rural use, about 75 percent was from wells and about 25 percent was from streams.

The discharge of wastes into the lower Fox River and its tributary streams has altered the quality of the natural water. The wastes consist chiefly of treated municipal sewage and treated and untreated wastes from the paper industry, rendering plants, a sugar mill, and other industries. The industrial waste makes up about 90 percent of the oxygen-demand loading in the lower Fox River, and treated municipal sewage accounts for about 10 percent. The dissolved-oxygen concentration of water in the lower Fox River decreases rapidly in the vicinity of Green Bay during the summer when the river water is warm. If the periods when the river water is warmest, generally during July and early August, were to coincide with periods of lowest annual streamflow, generally in late August, the river would be unable to assimilate the loading of decomposable organic matter.

In an emergency, industrial and public supply wells could supply at least 6 mgd for a sustained period and probably as much as 10 mgd for a period of several days. Six of the wells that formerly supplied the city of Green Bay are maintained in operating condition and could furnish about the same quantity of water as the industrial and other public supply wells. Small streams in the area would be supplemental sources of water, and the water in the Fox River and Green Bay is easily accessible.

Study Area

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Water resources of the Green Bay area, Wisconsin: G in Water resources of industrial regions: A summary of the source, occurrence, availability, and use of water in the area
Series title:
Water Supply Paper
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U.S. Geological Survey
Contributing office(s):
Wisconsin Water Science Center
Report: v, 67 p.; 1 Plate: 23.50 x 31.95 inches
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USGS Numbered Series
Larger Work Title:
Water resources of industrial regions: A summary of the source, occurrence, availability, and use of water in the area
United States
Brown county, Oconto county, Outagamie County
Green Bay
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