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Dakota Aquifer Program--Subsurface Hydrology

Regional Dakota aquifer hydrostratigraphy

The geologic units that form the Dakota aquifer in Kansas are the Dakota Formation, the Kiowa Formation, and the Cheyenne Sandstone (Table 1). These geologic units were deposited during the Cretaceous Period in alluvial valleys and in the coastal plain adjacent to the developing Western Interior seaway (Hamilton, 1994).

Table 1 also shows the equivalent stratigraphic units in eastern Colorado. The combined thickness of these units can range up to more than 700 ft in west-central parts of the state. However, not all of the units that constitute the Dakota contain aquifer-grade material that can yield water to wells.

The amount of sandstone, considered to be the aquifer material, varies from less than 5% to more than 50% of the total thickness, even over distances of less than a mile. More information on the stratigraphy of these deposits can be found on this volume of the CD set in the Geologic Framework directory.

Table 1


At the regional scale, the Dakota aquifer system consists of upper and lower units (Table 1; Figure 1). The upper aquifer unit consists entirely of the Dakota Formation and the shoreline deposits at the top of the Kiowa Formation and is approximately 300 ft thick. The lower aquifer unit consists of the Longford Member of the Kiowa Formation and the Cheyenne Sandstone and varies considerably in thickness up to 200 ft. These upper and lower regional aquifers are separated in western and parts of central Kansas by thick, marine shale in the Kiowa Formation, referred to as the Kiowa shale aquitard (Table 1). The thickness of the aquitard ranges up to more than 300 ft in parts of west-central and southwestern Kansas. The Kiowa shale aquitard is not present in much of central Kansas where it has been removed by erosion or was not deposited. Where it is not present the potential exists for direct hydraulic connection between the upper and lower Dakota aquifer. Figure 2 shows the extent of the Kiowa shale aquitard in Kansas.

Figure 1


Figure 2--Extent of the Kiowa shale aquitard in Kansas.

figure 2


In most hydrogeologic investigations, the permeable nature of a natural porous medium to the flow of water is indicated by its hydraulic conductivity, expressed in L/T units. Sandstone hydraulic conductivities are derived from the results field tests involving either single or multiple wells and laboratory measurements of small samples from the outcrop or coring. Because of the variability of natural porous media, the hydraulic conductivity is a log-normally distributed parameter in most instances (Freeze and Cherry, 1979). The "average" value for the log-normal distribution is the geometric mean of the distribution.

Twenty-two reliable values of hydraulic conductivity from field hydraulic tests of wells in the Dakota aquifer of Kansas were found in the literature or were derived from field tests conducted for the Dakota Aquifer Program. Most of the values come from pumping tests where the Dakota aquifer is shallow in central and southwestern Kansas. The hydraulic conductivity data from the field hydraulic testing range from 3.6-88 ft./day with a geometric mean value of 12.5 ft/day (Figure 3A). The highest hydraulic conductivities are generally found in the outcrop or near the outcrop areas of the Dakota aquifer in central Kansas and the lowest values in southwestern Kansas.

Figure 3. Distribution of hydraulic conductivity (A) and specific storage (B) values from 22 pumping tests of the Dakota Aquifer in Kansas.

figure 3a

figure 3b

In Figure 4 similar trends can be observed in the results from lab tests on core samples of the sandstones from the Dakota aquifer in central and northwest Kansas. Core samples of sandstone from central Kansas appear to be more permeable than core samples of sandstone from northwest Kansas. The test results suggest that hydraulic conductivity is generally highest in the better sorted and coarser sandstones. These sandstones are most common in the lower sections of thick, amalgamated, multi-story fluvial- and distributary-channel sandstone bodies found in central Kansas.

Figure 4. Histograms of horizontal hydraulic conductivity of fluvial and shoreface sandstones from the Dakota and Kiowa Formations in the KGS #1 Jones (central Kansas) and the #1 Beaumeister (northwestern Kansas).

figure 4a figure 4b figure 4c

Direct field or laboratory tests on the mudstone matrix were not conducted in the Dakota Aquifer Program. However, Wade (1991, 1992) reported a mudstone vertical hydraulic conductivity of 2.2 ± 0.6 x 10-3ft./day from a pumping test of a thick sandstone aquifer in Washington County. Macfarlane et al. (1994) concluded from analysis of a pumping test near the outcrop in central Kansas, that the vertical hydraulic conductivity of the mudstone is considerably less than 0.001 ft/day, perhaps by several orders of magnitude. These results suggest that processes associated with erosion and unloading of the Dakota aquifer sediments may significantly increase the bulk vertical hydraulic conductivity of the mudstone matrix that surrounds the sandstone bodies of the Dakota aquifer.

The release of water from storage in confined aquifers is analogous to the process of consolidation in soil mechanics. Water is released from storage by (1) the expansion of water under confinement due to the decrease in fluid pressure to atmospheric, and (2) the consolidation of the confined aquifer framework due to the release of water. These two phenomena are expressed jointly in the specific storage term:

Specific Storage equation (eqn. 1)

Where rho is the water density (mass per cubic liter), g is the acceleration of gravity (length per square of time), and alpha and beta are the compressibilities of the aquifer framework and the water, respectively (length multiplied by time squared divided by mass). In eqn. 3 the expansion of the framework is reflected in alpha and that of the water is reflected in the n times beta term. In most cases the consolidation of the aquifer framework is most important influence on the specific storage. The storativity is the product of the specific storage and the thickness of the sandstone aquifer.

Twenty-two reliable values of specific storage from field hydraulic tests of wells in the Dakota aquifer of Kansas were found in the literature or were derived from field tests conducted for the Dakota Aquifer Program. Most of the values come from pumping tests where the Dakota aquifer is shallow in central and southwestern Kansas. Values of specific storage range from 1.5 x 10-7 (inverse feet) up to 2.9 x 10-5 (inverse feet), which is within the expected range of values for confined sandstone aquifers. In Figure 2B the data appear to be log normally distributed with a geometric mean of 2.1 x 10-6 (inverse feet).


Freeze, R.A., and Cherry, J.A., 1979, Ground Water: Englewood Cliffs, N.J., Prentice Hall Inc., 604 p.

Hamilton, V.J., 1994, Sequence stratigraphy of Cretaceous Albian and Cenomanian strata in Kansas, in Shurr, G. W., Ludvigsen, G. A., and Hammond, R. H., eds., Perspectives on the Eastern Margin of the Cretaceous Western Interior Basin: Geological Society of America Special Paper 287, p. 79-96.

Macfarlane, P.A., Doveton, J.H., Feldman, H.R., Butler, J.J., Jr., Combes, J.M., and Collins, D.R., 1994, Aquifer/aquitard units of the Dakota aquifer system in Kansas: methods of delineation and sedimentary architecture effects on ground-water flow and flow properties: Journal of Sedimentary Research, v. B64, no. 4, pp. 464-480.

Wade, A. 1991, Determination of aquifer properties of the Dakota aquifer in Washington County, Kansas from a pumping test: Kansas Geological Survey Open-File Report 91-1c, 62 p.

Wade, A., 1992, Ground-water flow systems and the water-resources potential of the Dakota aquifer in a two-county area in north-central Kansas: MS thesis, University of Kansas, Lawrence, 158 p.

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Kansas Geological Survey, Dakota Aquifer Program
Updated April 8, 1996.
Scientific comments to P. Allen Macfarlane
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