The Ahtanum Valley covers an area of about 100 square miles in an important agricultural district in central Yakima County, Wash. Because the area is semiarid, virtually all crops require irrigation. Surface-water supplies are inadequate in most of the area, and ground water is being used increasingly for irrigation. The purpose of this investigation was the collection and interpretation of data, pertaining to ground water in the area as an aid in the proper development and management of the water resources.
The occurrence and movement of ground water in the Ahtanum Valley are directly related to the geology. The valley occupies part of a structural trough (Ahtanum-Moxee subbasin) that is underlain by strongly folded flow layers of a thick sequence of the Yakima basalt. The upper part of the basalt sequence interfingers with, and is conformably overlying by, sedimentary rocks of the Ellensburg formation which are as much as 1,000 feet thick. These rocks are in turn overlying unconformably by cemented basalt gravel as much as 400 feet thick. Unconsolidated alluvial sand and gravel, as much as 30 feet thick, form the valley floor.
Although ground water occurs in each of the rock units within the area, the Yakima basalt and the unconsolidated alluvium yield about three-fourths of the ground water currently used. Wells in the area range in depth from a few feet to more than 1,200 feet and yield from less than 1 to more than 1,030 gallons per minute.
Although water levels in water-table wells usually are shallow--often less than 5 feet below the land surface--levels in deeper wells tapping confined water range from somewhat above the land surface (in flowing wells) to about 200 feet below. Wells drilled into aquifers in the Yakima basalt, the Ellensburg formation, and the cemented gravel usually tap confined water, and at least 12 wells in the area flow or have flowed in the past. Ground-water levels fluctuate principally in response to changes in stream levels, variations in the flow of irrigation ditches and in rates of water application, variations in local precipitation, and seasonal differences in withdrawals from wells. Annual fluctuations of levels generally are less than 10 feet except in localities of heavy pumping. Periodic measurements of water levels in two observation wells in the area indicate, locally at least, a persistent decline in artesian pressures in confined basalt aquifers, although the record is too short to show whether withdrawal by pumping has
reached, or is nearing, an optimum balance with recharge.
The aquifers are recharged by precipitation, by infiltration from streams, and by ground-water underflow into the area. Ground water is discharged by seepage to streams, by evapotranspiration, by springs and seeps at the land surface, and, artificially, by withdrawal from wells. It is estimated that the seepage discharge to the Yakima River from the area studied may range from about 20,000 to 25,000 acre-feet per year. The consumptive waste of ground water by phreatophytes probably exceeds 4,000 acre-feet per year and may represent a large reclaimable source of water in the area. The annual withdrawal of ground water from wells in the area for domestic, industrial, irrigation, public, and stock supplies is estimated to be 6,300 acre-feet. The chemical quality of the ground water generally is satisfactory for most purposes, although the water from many wells is harder than is desirable for domestic use.