The Snake River basin, in southern Idaho, upstream from the mouth of the Powder River in Oregon, includes more than 50 percent of the land area and 65 percent of the total population of the State. More than 2.5 million acres of land is irrigated ; irrigation agriculture and industry allied with agriculture are the basis of the economy of the basin.
Most of the easily developed sources of surface water are fully utilized, and few storage sites remain where water could be made available to irrigate lands under present economic conditions. Because surface-water supplies have be come more difficult to obtain, use of ground water has increased greatly. At the present time (1959), about 600,000 acres of land is irrigated with ground water. Ground-water development has been concentrated in areas where large amounts of water are available beneath or adjacent to tracts of arable land and where the depth to water is not excessive under the current economy. Under these criteria, many of the most favorable areas already have been developed; however, tremendous volumes of water are still available for development. In some places, water occurs at depths considered near or beyond the limit for economic recovery, whereas in some other places, water is reasonably close to the surface but no arable land is available in the vicinity. In other parts of the basin large tracts of arable land are without available water supply. Thus the chief tasks in development of the ground-water resources include not only locating and evaluating ground-water supplies but also the planning necessary to bring the water to the land.
Irrigation began in the 1860's ; at the present time more than 10 million acre feet of surface water, some of which is recirculated water, is diverted annually for irrigation of more than 2.5 million acres. Diversion of this large quantity of water has had a marked effect on the ground-water regimen. In some areas, the water table has risen more than 100 feet and the discharge of some springs has more than doubled. Large-scale development of ground water began after World War II, and it is estimated that in 1959 about 1,500,000 acre-feet of ground water was pumped for irrigation of the 600,000 acres irrigated wholly with ground water in addition to a substantial amount of ground water pumped to supplement surface-water supplies. Ground water is also the principal source of supply for municipal, industrial, and domestic use.
The water regimen in the Snake River basin is greatly influenced by the geology. The rocks forming the mountains are largely consolidated rocks of low permeability; however, a fairly deep and porous subsoil has formed on them by decay and disintegration of the parent rock. Broad intermontane valleys and basins are partly filled with alluvial sand and gravel. The subsoil and alluvial materials are utilized very little as a source of water supply but are important as seasonal ground-water reservoirs because they store water during periods of high rainfall and snowmelt. Discharge from these reservoirs maintains stream flow during periods of surface runoff. Because these aquifers are fairly thin, they drain rapidly and are considerably depleted at the end of each dry cycle. The plain and plateau areas and tributary valleys, on the other hand, are underlain chiefly by rocks of high permeability and porosity. These rocks, mostly basaltic lava flows and alluvial materials, constitute a reservoir which fluctuates only slightly from season to season. Large amounts' of water are withdrawn from them for irrigation and other uses, and discharge from the Snake Plain aquifer is an important part of the total flow of the Snake River downstream from Hagerman Valley.
The ultimate source of ground water in the basin is precipitation on the basin. In the mountainous areas, aquifers mostly are recharged directly by precipitation. On the other hand, in the plains, lowlands, and valleys which contain the principal aquifers
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USGS Numbered Series
Ground water for irrigation in the Snake River Basin in Idaho