Geology and ground-water resources of Nobles County, and part of Jackson County, Minnesota

Water Supply Paper 1749

Prepared in cooperation with the Division of Waters, Minnesota Department of Conservation, and the city of Worthington



The area described in this report is in southwestern Minnesota, about 130 miles southwest of Minneapolis and St. Paul. It includes; Nobles County and the western tier of townships in Jackson County, a total of 864 square miles. Worthington, the Nobles County seat, is the largest city in the area, having a population of 9,015 persons (1960 census). Farming is the leading occupation, and food processing is the major industry. Critical water shortages have occurred in several parts of the area.

The climate is characterized by mild, subhumid summers and relatively long, severe winters. Mean monthly temperatures range from 15.1 °F in January to 73.3 °F in July. The mean annual precipitation is 26.75 inches.

The crest of the Coteau des Prairies, a broad highland belt, traverses Nobles County from northwest to southeast. Three glacial end moraines and their associated ground moraines trend south to southeast across the area. Altitudes range from about 1,820 feet on the crest of the coteau in the northwestern part of the area to about 1,390 feet above mean sea level in the Jack and Okabena Creek valleys in the northeast.

The Mississippi-Missouri River drainage divide crosses the area from north to east. The Gary outer end moraine trends southeast through central Nobles County. East of this moraine the land is poorly drained and contains numerous lakes and swamps; west of this moraine the land is well drained and contains few, if any, undrained depressions.

Within the area, granite and Sioux Quartzite of Precambrian age are overlain by Cretaceous strata, except locally in the northeast and northwest parts of the area where the quartzite is directly overlain by glacial drift. The Cretaceous strata are composed of interbedded shale, siltstone, and sandstone. The surface of the area is composed of Pleistocene deposits of glacial drift and some thin, patchy deposits of Recent age. Bedrock is not known to crop out in the area. The drift ranges in thickness from about 150 feet in the southwest and northeast corners to about 500 feet on the highest part of the Coteau des Prairies.

The Precambrian granite is not a source of ground water in this area. The Sioux Quartzite yields moderate supplies in adjacent counties to the north and west, but because of its sporadic occurrence it does not constitute an important water source in this area. The Cretaceous sandstone units are a secondary source of ground water and yield adequate supplies 'to at least 24 farm wells, which range in depth from 283 to 586 feet below land surface.

The primary source of ground water in the Nobles-Jackson County area is the glacial drift. Buried outwash deposits supply water to 7 of the 10 municipalities and to most of the farms in the area. Two Worthington city wells, completed in a buried outwash deposit underlying East Okabena dry lake bed, were tested for short periods at 500 gallons per minute. The estimated coefficient of transmissibility for the aquifer at one of the wells was 70,000 gpd (gallons per day) per ft.

The buried outwash deposits may occur anywhere within the drift from about 15 feet below land surface to bedrock which is as much as 500 feet below land surface. The outwash ranges from a fraction of a foot to more than 25 feet in thickness where permeable; below the water table it generally will supply ample quantities of water to properly constructed wells.

Surflcial outwash deposits fill the valley bottoms and form the terrace deposits associated with the present-day drainage channels. The thicker, more extensive, and continuous deposits occur in the proglacial stream channels that drained the fronts of the ice sheets rather than in those channels that now drain the backs of the moraines. The surflcial outwash deposits generally are made up of sand, gravel and some silt and clay, and range in thickness from 0 to more than 60 feet; they range in width from a few feet in the narrow tributaries to about one mile in the larger stream valleys.

Four municipalities and many farms obtain part or all of their water supplies from surficial outwash. An Adrian municipal well, completed in this source, was pumped at a rate of 400 gpm. At the confluence of two streams which drain Ocheda Lake in southeastern Nobles County, the sand and gravel section is more than 60 feet thick in places. Results of a pumping test here showed an average coefficient of transmissibility of 150,000 gpd per ft. Coefficients of transmissibility may be as much as 500,000 gdp per ft in the thickest part of the deposit if the permeability of the sand and gravel is uniform.

Recharge to the surflcial outwash deposits is relatively rapid; it is slower to the buried outwash deposits where the descending water must percolate through till of low permeability before entering the aquifers.

The quality of water in the Precambrian crystalline rocks, the Cretaceous strata, and the buried Pleistocene aquifers is poor. Chemical analyses of 22 water samples showed that dissolved solids ranged from 1,100 ppm (parts per million) to 3,050 ppm. Water from the surficial outwash deposits is good by comparison; dissolved solids in water from these aquifers ranged from 425 to 870 ppm.

Study Area

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Geology and ground-water resources of Nobles County, and part of Jackson County, Minnesota
Series title:
Water Supply Paper
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Government Printing Office
Publisher location:
Washington, D.C.
Contributing office(s):
Minnesota Water Science Center
Document: iv, 70 p.; 5 Plates: 23.0 x 23.5 inches or smaller
United States
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