Domestic and Stock Supplies
Nearly all of the domestic and stock supplies in rural areas are obtained from wells and springs. Formerly springs and dug wells were the most important source of this water but, for the last 50 years or more, bored wells, and particularly drilled wells, have been relied upon extensively. Dug wells have passed out of use because of the great depth to water in the upland areas, and because they are more subject to pollution and are apt to fail during dry weather. Practically all new wells put down in the county are drilled.
The domestic use of water generally includes drinking, cooking, washing, and, in modern houses, the disposal of sewage. Water from some wells or springs may be dangerously polluted and care should be taken to avoid such water or remove the source of pollution. In Meade County the ground waters are generally satisfactory for all domestic purposes, although some contain an objectionable amount of hardness that makes them unsuitable for washing (see "Quality of Water").
On a few farms and ranches in the county small streams and springs furnish adequate livestock supplies. Most ranchers, however, must rely upon wells for stock water, at least during part of the year. Ground water in sufficient quantity and of adequate quality for stock use can be obtained from nearly any locality in Meade County.
Three municipalities in Meade County have public water supplies, and all rely exclusively upon ground water.
Meade, the county seat and largest city, is supplied by two gravel-wall wells (244 and 245) situated in the valley of Crooked Creek, which are operated by electrically driven turbine pumps. Water is pumped from the wells into two brick reservoirs below the surface of the ground, and from there it is pumped directly into the mains--the excess going to an elevated steel tank. The aggregate capacity of the three reservoirs is 380,000 gallons. The water is untreated and has a total hardness of 178 parts per million, as indicated by the analysis of water from wells 244 and 245, given in table 7. The average daily consumption of water at Meade is about 154,000 gallons.
The city of Fowler is supplied by two gravel-wall wells (116 and 117), situated at the north city limit, which are operated by electrically driven turbine pumps. Water is pumped from the wells into the mains, the excess going to a standpipe that holds 70,000 gallons. The water is untreated and has a total hardness of 202 parts per million, as indicated by the analysis of water from wells 116, 117 in table 7. The average daily consumption of water at Fowler is about 83,000 gallons.
The city of Plains is supplied by one gravel-wall well (269) situated on the High Plains in the southwestern part of town, which is operated by an electrically driven turbine pump. Water is pumped from the well into the mains, the excess going to an elevated storage tank that holds 50,000 gallons. The water is untreated and has a total hardness of 702 parts per million, as indicated by the analysis of the water from well 269 in table 7. The average daily consumption of water at Plains is about 29,000 gallons.
The total annual pumpage of ground water for public supplies in Meade County is nearly 360 acre-feet, of which approximately 200 acre-feet is pumped at Meade, 90 acre-feet at Fowler, and 70 acre-feet at Plains. These figures include water sold by the cities for railroad and industrial use.
Water for irrigation may be obtained in several ways in Meade County: by diversion from streams, by pumping from streams, from large springs, from flowing wells, and from pumped wells. In Meade County most of the irrigation water is obtained from flowing wells and pumped wells. Irrigation from flowing wells is carried out only on a relatively small scale, as discussed in the section on artesian water; therefore, the following discussion pertains largely to irrigation from pumped wells. For information concerning the construction and cost of irrigation plants the reader is referred to Davison (1939).
In 1939 only one large irrigation well (272) was in operation on the High Plains. This well was constructed in 1939 on the C. W. Holmes farm (see pls. 8B and 10B). It is a gravel-wall well, 18 inches in diameter and 230 feet deep, and the static water level before pumping started was 160 feet below land surface. The well is equipped with a turbine pump powered by a tractor engine, and is reported to yield 450 gallons a minute. This well may prove to be of value in demonstrating whether or not irrigation from wells is practicable in this part of the High Plains.
During the last 14 years irrigation from large pumped wells has received some impetus in the nonflowing part of the artesian basin. During this period eight nonflowing artesian wells of large diameter (including wells 7, 9, 16, 24, 38, 194, and 297) and one flowing well (55) of large diameter have been put into operation and pumped somewhat for irrigation. Nearly all are gravel-wall wells equipped with turbine pumps and powered by gasoline engines.
Possibilities of Developing Additional Irrigation Supplies
Upland areas--The future development of irrigation from wells on the High Plains in the northwestern part of the county is largely a matter of economics. Over most of this area an adequate supply of water for irrigation is available to properly constructed wells drilled to a depth of 300 feet or more, but the pumping lift over most of the northwestern part of the county would be in excess of 150 feet, and so it might not be economically profitable to pump water for irrigation except under special conditions.
The upland area east of Crooked Creek, in the east-central part of the county, presents much the same problem as the northwestern part, except in this area the thickness of water-bearing gravel is much less, and so one or more test holes generally are needed in order to determine whether or not an adequate supply of water for irrigation is available.
Artesian basin--During the last several years irrigation from pumped wells has proved to be a profitable venture in certain areas in southwestern Kansas, and in this and adjacent areas the number of irrigation wells and the quantity of water pumped have been increasing. For this reason it is desirable to discuss briefly the probable future ground-water supply of the artesian basin. As pointed out above, during the last 40 years the decline in head seems to have been small and the total discharge of artesian water on the surface seems to have remained nearly constant. It is evident that the maximum quantity of water obtainable in the basin, from wells and springs, without depressing the head sufficiently to restrict the area of artesian flow appreciably, is only about equal to the present total discharge, or about 7,100 acre-feet annually. It has been demonstrated that large-scale pumping in the flowing well area depresses the piezometric surface for a considerable distance around a pumped well. If a large number of pumped wells were installed, it seems altogether possible that the head of the artesian water would be depressed sufficiently to cause all flows in the basin to cease.
The question now arises as to the probable quantity of water available under such conditions of heavy pumping. As pointed out above, the total recharge of the artesian aquifers is equivalent to the total discharge at the surface plus the underground leakage into the body of shallow ground water. This leakage is subsequently lost by transpiration, evaporation, seepage into streams, and, to a very small extent, by pumping. Thus, the maximum quantity of water that could be recovered perennially by pumping from the artesian aquifers is represented by the total surface discharge from wells and springs at the present time plus the quantity lost by underground leakage. This quantity of water appears to be of the order of magnitude of 10,000 acre-feet a year. During the initial stage of such a pumping program withdrawal of water from storage would make a somewhat larger quantity available, but added supply probably could be obtained for a short period of years only.
In considering future irrigation development it should be pointed out that about 3,550 acre-feet of the water a year is now discharged upon the surface by springs and wells and is not used. If this water were all conserved and utilized for irrigation at the same rate as in the extensive irrigation projects in Ford county (average 1.69 acre-feet per acre in 1938, according to personal communication from H. A. Waite), an additional 2,000 acres could be irrigated. On the other hand, it is estimated that if the maximum yield of the area were attained by increased pumping from wells, an additional 4,000 acres could be irrigated--or 2,000 acres more than by use of all existing natural flows. In order to recover this additional quantity of water, however, the piezometric surface would of necessity be lowered enough not only to stop all of the flowing wells but also to stop upward leakage into the shallow water. As has been pointed out, this upward leakage is probably the most important source of recharge to the shallow water reservoir, and therefore this procedure would lower the shallow water table considerably. Before any such development is undertaken in the basin, the possible effect of the lowering of the shallow-water table on crops grown by natural subirrigation should be studied.
The figures for maximum number of acres that could be irrigated by the water now wasted and by additional water that could be made available by a large-scale pumping plan are based on the assumption of complete conservation of the water. I am well aware of the fact that complete utilization of the water in this area is hardly possible, and therefore these estimates of acreages should be regarded as maxima that probably could not be attained in practice.
Kansas Geological Survey, Geologic History of Kansas
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Web version February 2004. Original publication date Dec. 1942.