Utilization of Water
Early settlers in this county obtained water mainly from dug wells or cisterns, but these have been almost entirely replaced by drilled wells. At the peak of the development in the county there was a drilled well on nearly every quarter section of land. At present more than 90 percent of the wells provide water for domestic and stock use, about five percent for irrigation, and less than 5 percent for public water supply. One well is used by the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway.
Domestic and Stock Supplies
The domestic wells supply water in the homes for drinking, cooking, and washing, and in schools other than those supplied by municipal wells, and provide water for the irrigation of small garden plots. The stock wells supply drinking water for livestock. Domestic and stock supplies are obtained almost, entirely from drilled wells, most of which are more than 100 feet deep. Most of the water from these wells is moderately hard, but is satisfactory for domestic and stock use. Much of the domestic and stock water, however, contains sufficient fluoride to be injurious to children's teeth during the period of their formation (see Quality of water).
Public Water Supplies
Only two cities in Morton County have municipal water supplies, Elkhart and Rolla, and both are supplied from wells.
Elkhart is served by the Kansas City Power and Light Company from 5 drilled wells (138-140, 143, 144) in and near the city. Two other wells (141,142) were formerly used but have been abandoned. The five used wells range in depth from 260 to 300 feet and in static water level from 200 to 205 feet. Wells 138-140 are 8 inches in diameter, are equipped with electrically driven plunger pumps, and yield 28 to 42 gallons a minute. Wells 143 and 144, drilled more recently, are 12 inches in diameter, are equipped with electrically driven turbine pumps, and yield 80 to 120 gallons a minute, respectively, with a reported draw-down of 30 feet. All the wells obtain water from coarse sand and gravel in the lower part of the Ogallala formation. Well 140 was originally 460 feet deep and yielded mineralized water from the Triassic (?) redbeds, so it was plugged at a depth of 300 feet and now draws from the Ogallala.
The well pumps deliver the water directly into the mains, and the excess water is stored in two elevated steel tanks holding an aggregate of 200,000 gallons. The pressure in the mains ranges from 30 to 45 pounds to the square inch. The total capacity of the five wells is about 425,000 gallons a day, but the maximum daily consumption has not exceeded 218,000 gallons. The analysis of water from well 138 given in the table indicates that it has a total hardness of 300 parts per million and a fluoride content of 0.7 part. The water is softened somewhat by the addition of 50 pounds of lime to each 400,000 gallons of water. The fluoride content is well within the safe limit discussed under quality of water.
Rolla is supplied by a city-owned 8-inch drilled well (92), which is reported to be 280 feet deep. The well is equipped with an electrically driven turbine pump that forces the water into the mains at the rate of about 200 gallons a minute. The excess water is stored in an elevated steel tank holding 55,000 gallons, and the water is distributed at a pressure of 55 pounds to the square inch. Analysis 92 indicates that the water has a total hardness of 291 parts per million and a fluoride content of only 0.2 part. Although the water is hard it is not treated.
The water level in the city well at Rolla (92) stands 200 feet below the land surface and is much lower than in other wells in the vicinity. The depth to water level in wells north of Rolla is only about 100 feet and in wells just south of the city is about 165 feet. The municipal well at Rolla struck the first water at a depth of 160 feet, but because the supply was inadequate for public use the well was deepened and cased to a depth of 280 feet, where a more productive water-bearing bed was encountered. The water then rose to a point 200 feet below the land surface.
In 1913 the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway Company drilled a well at Elkhart to a depth of 218 feet. It encountered water in a coarse sand of the Ogallala formation at a depth of 194 to 218 feet (see log 18). The well was deepened to 277 feet in 1927 and additional water was encountered in sands of the Ogallala at a depth of 255 to 271 feet. In 1928 the well was again deepened to a depth of 370 feet, and ended in the Triassic (?) redbeds. The static water level is 208 feet below the land surface. The water is used in locomotive boilers and can be pumped into the city mains in case of an emergency.
The prolonged drought that began in 1930 and has resulted in many crop failures has called to the attention of the farmers the need for irrigation. The large quantity of ground water available and the nearby source of cheap natural gas for fuel are ideal for irrigation, but the cost of drilling wells and the excessive pumping lift would almost prohibit profitable irrigation in most parts of the county.
The artesian wells near Richfield were used for irrigation nearly 50 years ago, but these are no longer used. More recently dug wells in both the northeastern and northwestern parts of the county have been pumped to a small extent for irrigation.
Since April, 1930, more than 35 gas wells have been drilled in Morton County and for each of these wells a water well was first drilled to supply water for drilling. Most of these water wells were 6 inches in diameter and had a reported capacity of as much as 1,000 gallons a minute. After the gas wells were completed the water wells were abandoned and the casing pulled unless the land-owners bought the casing. Several landowners in Morton County have bought the casing and saved the wells, and one of these (58) is now used for irrigation. The drilling of these wells led to renewed interest in irrigation in this area in 1939.
In the autumn of 1939 there were three irrigation wells in the county and two other wells were formerly used for irrigation. Descriptions of three of these wells are given in the well tables and all are described in more detail in the following paragraphs. At least three new irrigation wells were drilled in the vicinity of Rolla in 1940.
Watkins well--The former irrigation well of E. M. Watkins is on a flat upland in the northwestern part of the county in sec. 11, T. 31 S., R. 43 W. It is omitted from the table of well records and from plate 2, as its exact location within the section was not determined. It was drilled as a gas test well to a depth of 1,160 feet. The depth to water level is reported to be about 72 feet. The well is 18 inches in diameter and is cased with galvanized iron, which has caved in at a depth of about 35 feet. The well probably obtained water from the Cheyenne sandstone (see log 25). It was used for a few years to irrigate a few acres, but it is now abandoned.
Ball well--The irrigation well of Lloyd Ball is situated in sec. 31, T. 32 S., R. 43 W. It is omitted from the table of well records and from plate 2, as its exact location within the section was not determined in the field. It is a dug well about 50 feet deep, and the water level is 30 feet below the land surface. The Cockrum sand-stone is the principal water-bearing bed and the water table here is near the top of the formation. The well is equipped with a 3-inch centrifugal pump operated by a gasoline engine and is reported to yield 200 gallons a minute. The owner irrigates several acres of land each year with this unit.
Milburn well--The irrigation well (4) of P. E. Milburn is situated in the valley of North Fork of Cimarron River in the NE1/4 sec. 30, T. 31 S., R. 39 W. It is a dug well 107 feet deep, cased with barrels that are 18 inches in diameter, and the static water level is 87 feet below the land surface. The well is equipped with a turbine pump that is powered by a tractor engine. The water-bearing bed is about 10 feet thick and consists of sand and gravel of the Ogallala formation. The well formerly provided water for irrigation, but it has not been used for several years. A 3-inch centrifugal pump powered by a gasoline motor formerly was used to pump water for irrigation from the creek during the seasons when it was flowing. Water flows in North Fork only after rains, so that water for irrigation is available only when least needed. This plant has not been operated for several years.
Artesian wells formerly supplied water for irrigation in the vicinity of Richfield. About 20 acres of alfalfa was irrigated by water from well 43. None of these wells is now used except well 43, which provides water used to irrigate a small garden plot.
Hayward well--The irrigation well (58) of G. L. Hayward is situated in the NW1/4 sec. 31, T. 33 S., R. 39 W. It was drilled by the Argus Production Company to supply water for drilling a gas well. It is reported to be 396 feet deep, to have a water level about 105 feet below the land surface, and to have a 6-inch steel casing. It is equipped with a turbine pump operated by a gasoline combine engine. The well yields about 60 gallons a minute from sand and gravel of the Ogallala formation.
Roy Connor drilled two test wells 1,300 feet apart in the SE1/4 sec. 13, T. 33 S., R. 40 W., in October, 1939, preparatory to drilling a large irrigation well early in 1940. The first adequate supply of water was found in a fine buff sand at a depth of 125 to 204 feet and an additional supply was found in a coarse white sand at a depth of 280 to 376 feet. Both sands are in the Ogallala formation. The deeper test well is 376 feet deep and the water level is 88 feet below the land surface. The original plan was to drill the irrigation well about 409 feet deep and to install a 12.5-inch casing perforated from a depth of 280 to 409 feet.
Deep-well Irrigation in Adjacent Areas in Kansas and Oklahoma
The following brief descriptions of ground-water development for irrigation in adjacent areas in Kansas and Oklahoma are included because the depth to water level is comparable to that in the uplands of Morton County. It should be understood, however, that the depth to water level, the yield of wells, the quantity of water available, and the type of soil differ greatly from place to place, and that these differences affect the cost of installation and operation, and otherwise limit the feasibility of irrigation from wells.
Three gravel-walled wells were drilled in the uplands of southwestern Ford County, Kansas, in 1937 (Lohman, 1938, pp. 4, 5). They range in depth from 149 to 211.5 feet and water levels range from 22 to 44 feet below the land surface. These wells were put down at the low cost of about $750 each, which economy was made possible by the use of a homemade drilling rig that was rented at virtually the cost of upkeep. The depth to water level was found to be about 112 feet in an irrigation test well north of Arkansas river in Ford County, and the depth to water level is about 165 feet in an irrigation well at Ensign, Gray County (Lohman, 1938, pp. 4, 5).
In 1937 the Liberal Deep Well Irrigation Company put down an irrigation well 1 mile north of Liberal. According to S. L. Schoff (1939, p. 124) the well is about 357 feet deep and the water level about 123 feet below the base of the pump. The well encountered a coarse water-bearing sand at a depth of 175 to 225 feet, which is within the Ogallala formation. The cost of the plant was about $6,300. Irrigation proved to be unprofitable and the well was abandoned.
The Panhandle Agricultural and Mechanical College at Goodwell, Okla., has two experimental irrigation wells that are 238 and 298 feet deep. The water levels are 135 and 118 feet below the land surface (Schoff, 1939, pp. 111-113). These wells are gravel-walled and yield 425 and 960 gallons a minute, respectively.
In 1939 two irrigation wells were drilled in Stanton county, Kansas. The depths are 160 and 182 feet and the static water levels are 52 and 63 feet (Latta, 1941). They were to be put in use in 1940.
Possibilities of Further Development of Irrigation from Wells in Morton County
The quantity of water that can be pumped from the underground reservoir without causing a permanent lowering of the water table depends upon the capacity and permeability of the reservoir and on the amount of annual recharge. Much of Morton County is under-lain by saturated sand and gravel of the Ogallala formation, locally more than 150 feet thick. In the northwestern part of the county, however, the principal water bearers are the Cockrum sandstone and the Cheyenne sandstone, which are productive locally, but may be thin or too fine-grained at other places. The capacity of the Ogallala and locally of the Cockrum and Cheyenne seems to be large enough to withstand considerably more pumping for irrigation. The amount of annual recharge to these formations probably would be insufficient to supply a considerable number of wells distributed evenly over Morton County. Conditions seem to be favorable for irrigation in only a small part of the county; however, in other parts the depth to water level is too great, the soil is not adapted, dust accumulates too readily, or the surface relief is too great for successful irrigation from wells.
In addition to the fundamental factors considered above, the success of irrigating from wells depends upon such factors as the initial cost of the well and pumping equipment, the cost of power or fuel, and the type and current price of the crops to be irrigated. Bulletins that discuss the cost of constructing irrigation wells (Davison, 1939) and the cost of pumping water for irrigation (McCall and Davison, 1939) are available from the Division of Water Resources, Kansas State Board of Agriculture, Topeka, Kan.
The most promising areas for additional irrigation development in Morton County are discussed below.
Northwestern area--This area includes the northwestern one-fourth of the county in T.'s 31 and 32 S., R.'s 41, 42 and 43 W. No-where in this area is the water level more than 110 feet below the land surface and in about one-fourth of the area it is less than 50 feet below the land surface. The principal water-bearing bed is the Cockrum sandstone, which is 80 to 125 feet thick. In most parts of the area it is saturated and yields water freely, but at a few isolated points, especially in the north-central part of the area, the sandstone contains only a small amount of water and wells must be deepened to the underlying Cheyenne sandstone in order to get enough water for domestic and stock use. The Cheyenne sandstone is coarser grained and yields water more freely than the Cockrum sandstone, but its thickness is very uneven and it is absent in some parts of the area. The depth to water level in a small area directly to the south is also less than 100 feet, but the water-bearing bed is the Ogallala formation, the saturated part of which is less than 60 feet thick and probably would not yield sufficient water for extensive irrigation.
Small irrigation wells probably could be developed in this shallow-water area. Most of the land surface is relatively flat and is well suited for irrigation. The soils consist of dark silty loams and silty clay loams and are favorable for irrigation.
Northeastern area--In a small area of about 12 square miles in the northeastern corner of the county, the depth to water level is 80 to 100 feet. A test well at the northwestern corner of sec. 4, T. 31 S., R. 39 W., penetrated 261 feet of the Ogallala formation, which is here underlain by the Cockrum sandstone. It is possible that as much as 180 feet of Ogallala may be saturated, and such a water-bearing bed probably would yield large quantities of water to irrigation wells. The area is near the edge of the Hugoton gas field, from which an abundance of cheap fuel can be obtained.
Eastern area--The eastern area is northeast of Rolla and it includes the part of the county that lies south of the sand hills, east of Kansas highway 12, and north of Kansas highway 45. It is underlain predominantly by Ogallala sediments, partly covered by subdued sand dunes. The water level is about 70 to 110 feet below land surface. This is the area in which most of the new irrigation wells are being drilled, and it is probably the most suitable place in the county for additional irrigation development. The water-bearing beds are the sands and gravels of the Ogallala formation, which, according to drillers logs, is 500 to 585 thick in this part of the county. It is possible that as much as 500 feet of the formation may be saturated with water. Well 63, which is 376 feet deep, penetrated nearly 300 feet of saturated material. The area lies within the Hugoton gas field where cheap fuel is available. The large area of sand dunes to the north and west provides an ideal catchment area for the recharge of the Ogallala formation.
The depth to water level in the Cimarron valley is less than 50 feet, but the condition of the soil and the surface irregularities tend to prevent widespread irrigation. The soil is very sandy and porous and the stream channel has widened until almost no bottom land is left in the valley.
If the irrigation from deep wells on the uplands of the High Plains in the future proves to be profitable, the above described areas in Morton County may be extensively developed.
Kansas Geological Survey, Morton County Geohydrology
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Web version Sept. 2004. Original publication date March 1942.