Hydrology of the Little Plover River basin, Portage County, Wisconsin, and the effects of water resource development

Water Supply Paper 1811
Prepared in cooperation with the Wisconsin Conservation Department and the University of Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey
By: , and 



The Little Plover River basin is in the sand-plain area of central Wisconsin. The basin and the surrounding sand-plain area provide a good fish and wildlife habitat and is a popular locale for sport fishing. Good yields may be obtained in the area from irrigated crops, and the irrigated acreage has been increasing rapidly in recent years. Sportsmen and conservationists are concerned about the effects of increased development of the water resources on the streams as trout habitat. In the past, many political and legal conflicts among water users have arisen from erroneous opinions as to the behavior of water. Many of these conflicts would be diminished or eliminated if the participants were cognizant of fundamental hydrologic principles.

This study was made to demonstrate the extent and nature of the interrelation of ground water and surface water and the fundamental hydrologic principles governing water movement. The study was also made to determine the hydrologic changes that might occur following development, to provide information that might be used as a basis for planning water development, and for drafting legislation that recognizes the relation between ground water and surface water.

Water has been developed in the Little Plover River basin for industry, for domestic and stock supplies, and for irrigation. Irrigated acreage is increasing in the area, and the use of water for irrigation may alter the hydrology of the basin somewhat. About 4,000-4,500 acres of land within the basin, or 50-60 percent of the basin area, is suitable for irrigated farming, but probably no more than 2,500 acres will be under irrigation in any one year, unless present crop-rotation practices are changed.

Most of the Little Plover River basin is underlain by from 40 to 100 feet of glacial outwash consisting of highly permeable sand and gravel. The glacial outwash is the main aquifer in the area and is capable of yielding large quantities of water to wells. An aquifer test in the area indicated that the coefficient of transmissibility of the glacial outwash is about 140,000 gallons per day per foot. The specific yield of the outwash is about 20 percent, as determined from water-level and streamfiow data. Morainal deposits occur locally with the glacial outwash. These deposits transmit water readily and do not form barriers to ground water in the outwash. Relatively impermeable crystalline rocks underlie the glacial deposits, and a sandstone ridge of low permeability impedes the movement of ground water from the basin by underflow.

The glacial outwash and morainal deposits are recharged by infiltration of 9-10 inches of the 31 inches of precipitation that falls on the area in an average year. If it is not withdrawn by wells for consumptive use or by phreatophytes, water that infiltrates the sand and gravel discharges later into the Little Plover River. This ground-water discharge constitutes 90-95 percent of the total flow of the Little Plover River.

Annual evapotranspiration varies considerably, but generally ranges from 2 to 8 inches less than the potential evapotranspiration of 24 inches. Consumptive use of irrigation water averages about 4 inches per year. Most of the water pumped from wells otherwise would be discharged to the stream, and consumptive use of irrigation water will deplete streamflow by the amount of evapotranspiration.

Pumping wells have little effect on the water level in the highly permeable sand and gravel. Significant interference between wells would occur only if large capacity wells were within a few tens of feet of each other.

Ground water and surface water are closely interrelated in the sand-plain area and ground-water withdrawals near the Little Plover River may cause a measurable streamflow depletion. In a test, a well that was pumping about 1,120 gpm (gallons per minute) and that was 300 feet from the stream derived about 30 percent of its flow from the stream after 3 days of pumping.

For this study, the effects of increased ground-water development were evaluated from a hypothetical development schedule, for which it was assumed that 500 acres were irrigated the first year and that an additional 50 acres were irrigated in each succeeding year for 10 years. It also was assumed that the average annual consumptive-use requirement for irrigation water would be one- third of an acre-foot per acre. Calculations indicate that the maximum monthly rate of depletion due to the consumptive use of 4 inches of ground water per year on 500 acres would be about 0.4 cfs (cubic feet per second) the first year and 0.5 cfs after 10 years of pumping. Other computations indicate that the maximum monthly rate of depletion due to irrigating 500 acres the first year and 50 additional acres each year for 10 years would be about 0.8 cfs. Maximum depletion would occur during the summer months, concurrent with the irrigation withdrawals.

Because of the close interrelation between ground and surface water, surface- water withdrawals will cause an increased inflow of ground water to the stream and a decline in ground-water levels near the stream. These effects were demonstrated by pumping from the stream. After 29 hours of pumping, a depletion of 1,120 gpm at a site 7,000 feet downstream was about 200 gpm less than the diversion at the pump. Most of the 200 gpm was supplied from the stream-banks, and ground-water levels near the stream declined as much as 0.3 foot. Computations indicated that ground-water inflow, following a streamflow diver- sion that lowered the stage 0.15 foot, would be 0.14 cfs after 5 days and 0.06 cfs after 30 days.

The demonstration of the quantitative relation between ground water and surface water, as given by this study, should provide a sound basis for planning water development to minimize conflicts of interest. The demonstrations also should provide a basis for drafting legislation that recognizes the interrelation of ground water and surface water.

Because the geology and the hydrology are relatively uniform throughout the sand plains, many of the methods and hydrologic values determined for this detailed study of the Little Plover River basin may be applied to other basins in the sand-plain area.

Study Area

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Hydrology of the Little Plover River basin, Portage County, Wisconsin, and the effects of water resource development
Series title Water Supply Paper
Series number 1811
DOI 10.3133/wsp1811
Year Published 1965
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Contributing office(s) Wisconsin Water Science Center
Description Report: v, 78 p.; 6 Plates: 21.00 x 18.01 inches or smaller
Country United States
State Wisconsin
County Portage County
Other Geospatial Little Plover River
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) Y
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details