Geology and ground-water resources of the Deer Lodge Valley, Montana

Water Supply Paper 1862

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The Deer Lodge Valley is a basin trending north-south within Powell, Deer Lodge, and Silver Bow Counties in west-central Montana, near the center of the Northern Rocky Mountains physiographic province. It trends northward between a group of relatively low, rounded mountains to the east and the higher, more rugged Flint Creek Range to the west. The Clark Fork and its tributaries drain the valley in a northerly direction. The climate is semiarid and is characterized by long cold winters and short cool summers. Agriculture and ore refining are the principal industries. Both are dependent on large amounts of water. The principal topographic features are a broad lowland, the Clark Fork flood plain, bordered by low fringing terraces that are in turn bordered by broad, high terraces, which slope gently upward to the mountains. The high terraces have been mostly obscured in the south end of the valley by erosion and by recent deposition of great coalescent fans radiating outward frown the mouths of various tributary canyons. The mountains east of the Deer Lodge Valley are formed mostly of Cretaceous sedimentary and volcanic rocks and a great core of Upper Cretaceous to lower Tertiary granitic rocks; those west of the valley are formed of Precambrian to Cretaceous sedimentary rocks and a core of lower Tertiary granitic rocks. Field relationships, gravimetric data, and seismic data indicate that the valley is a deep graben, which formed in early Tertiary time after emplacement of the Boulder and Philipsburg batholiths. During the Tertiary Period the valley was partly filled to a maximum depth of more than 5,500 feet with erosional detritus that came from the surrounding mountains and was interbedded with minor amounts of volcanic ejecta. This material accumulated in a great variety of local environments. Consequently the resultant deposits are of extremely variable lithology in lateral and vertical sequence. The deposits grade from unconsolidated to well-cemented and from clay to boulder-sized aggregates. Throughout most of the area the strata dip gently towards the valley axis, but along the western margins of the valley they dip steeply into the mountains. In late Pliocene or early Pleistocene the Tertiary strata were eroded to a nearly regular valley divide surface. In the western part of the valley the erosion surface was thinly mantled by glacial debris from the Flint Creek Range. Still later, probably during several interglacial intervals, the Clark Fork and its tributaries entrenched themselves in the Tertiary strata to an average depth of about 150 feet. The resultant erosional features were further modified by Wisconsin to Recent glaciofluvial deposition. Three east-west cross .sections and a corrected gravity map were drawn for the valley. They indicate a maximum depth of fill of more than 5,500 feet in the southern part. Depths decrease to the north to approximately 2,300 feet near the town of Deer Lodge. The principal source of ground water in the Deer Lodge Valley is the upper few hundred feet of unconsolidated valley fill. Most of the wells tapping these deposits range in depth from a few feet to 250 feet. Water levels range from somewhat above land surface (in flowing wells) to about 150 feet below. Yields of the wells range from a few gallons per minute to 1,000 gallons per minute. Generally, wells having the highest yields are on the flood plain of the Clark Fork or the coalescent fans of Warm Springs and Mill Creeks. Discharge of ground water by seepage into streams, by evapotranspiration, and by pumping from wells causes a gradual lowering of the water table. Each spring and early summer, seepage of water from irrigation and streams and infiltration of water from snowmelt and precipitation replenish the ground-water reservoir. Seasonal fluctuation of the water table generally is less than 10 feet. The small yearly water table fluctuation indicates that recharge about balances discharge from th

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USGS Numbered Series
Geology and ground-water resources of the Deer Lodge Valley, Montana
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Water Supply Paper
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U.S. Govt. Print. Off.,
iv, 55 p. :illus., maps (2 fold. col. in pocket) ;24 cm.