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Tri-State Region Ground Waters

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The availability of ground water from the carbonate aquifers in lower Paleozoic rocks has been an important factor in the economic development of the Tri-State region of Kansas, Oklahoma, and Missouri (Abernathy, 1941; Reed and others, 1955; Stramel, 1957). Aquifers in the Mississippian and Cambrian-Ordovician rocks make up the lower Paleozoic aquifer system in the Tri-State region. Before the beginning of the 20th century, deep wells were used to supply water for milling lead-zinc ores in both the Picher field along the Kansas-Oklahoma state border southwest of Baxter Springs and the Joplin field along the Kansas-Missouri state border between Galena and Joplin. These wells also supplied water for coal-washing operations in the Pittsburg, Kansas, area and for public water supply.

Since the decline of mining industry in the Tri-State region in the 1930's, the level of pumpage from deep wells continues to be high because the demand for water has increased for public water supplies, industry, and agriculture. This is particularly true in the Joplin, Missouri; Miami, Oklahoma; and Pittsburg, Kansas, areas. Many new deep wells have been drilled to increase the capacity of the public water-supply systems of these population centers. Approximately 5,544 million gallons (Mgal; 17,015 acre-ft) of water was pumped from deep wells in the Tri-State during 1982 (unpublished data from the Kansas Board of Agriculture, Missouri Department of Natural Resources, and U.S. Geological Survey). The first rural-water-district facility in southeast Kansas using deep wells was built in 1964 in Cherokee County. Since then, additional rural water districts that produce ground water from aquifers in lower Paleozoic rocks have been created: three in Cherokee County; six in Crawford County; one each in Vernon and Barton counties, Missouri; and six in Ottawa County, Oklahoma. The water supplied by these districts is used for domestic, stock watering, and other purposes. Deep wells also supply ground water to the coal-fired electric-power generating plants at Riverton, Kansas, and Asbury, Missouri, and to irrigators in southwest Missouri.

Proper management of these aquifers may become essential in the future to protect the freshwater resources from progressive degradation of ground-water chemical quality. Degradation could be induced by large withdrawals of ground water by the many public and industrial water-supply-well fields and center-pivot irrigation systems in the area. Already some areas have experienced large-scale static water-level declines and ground-water chemical-quality changes. However, the hydrogeologic data necessary to make decisions for protecting ground-water chemical quality are not available. Additional problems arise because the aquifer framework, composed of thick, heterogeneous carbonates, is poorly understood both stratigraphically and hydrologically across the region.


The purpose of this study is to define the regional hydrogeology and variations in ground-water chemical quality of the lower Paleozoic aquifers in the Tri-State region of Kansas, Oklahoma, and Missouri. The information contained herein will be useful to all groups in the public and private sectors interested in developing new water supplies or expanding the capacity of existing systems in the study area.

Location and extent of area

The area of investigation covered by this report is the Tri-State region which includes portions of southeast Kansas, southwest Missouri, and northeast Oklahoma (fig. 1). This includes portions or all of Cherokee, Crawford, Allen, Bourbon, Neosho, Montgomery, and Labette counties in Kansas; Vernon, Barton, Jasper, and Newton counties in Missouri; and Ottawa and Craig counties in Oklahoma.

Figure 1--Location of study area showing Mississippian-Pennsylvanian outcrop boundary, Tri-State Region.

Miss.-Penn. boundary runs from Ottawa Co. in Oklahoma through far SE Cherokee Co. in Kansas, then through Jasper and Barton co. in Missouri.

Previous work

Ground-water investigations pertaining to the lower Paleozoic aquifers in southeast Kansas and in the adjoining areas of Missouri and Oklahoma are numerous. Abernathy (1941) reported on the availability of ground water from the Cambrian-Ordovician and Mississippian aquifers in Bourbon, Crawford, Cherokee, and Labette counties in Kansas. This was a reconnaissance investigation containing data from scattered wells in southwest Missouri and southeast Kansas. Abernathy recognized the great variability of ground-water chemical quality in the Cambrian-Ordovician aquifer within this region. He also reported on the drilling and testing of a new well for the Jayhawk Ordnance Plant (now the Gulf Oil Chemical Corporation) that penetrated the Mississippian and Cambrian-Ordovician aquifers (Abernathy, 1943). Williams (1948) wrote a report on the possible contamination of public water-supply wells completed in the Cambrian-Ordovician by leakage of waters through holes in the well casing from overlying Pennsylvanian or Mississippian aquifers into public supply wells at McCune, Cherokee, and Arma, Kansas. Later, Stramel (1957) conducted several pumping and recovery tests on deep wells used for public water supply by the city of Pittsburg, Kansas, to determine the hydraulic properties of the lower Paleozoic carbonate aquifers in the well-field area. He noted that static (nonpumping) water levels in wells penetrating these aquifers had declined more than 100 ft (30 m) in the Pittsburg area since the drilling of the first well in the early 1880's. Reed and others (1955) reported on ground-water availability in the Mississippian and Cambrian-Ordovician aquifers in Ottawa County, Oklahoma. They showed that at Miami, Oklahoma, static water-level declines of approximately 400 ft (120 m) occurred between 1905 and 1947 in wells penetrating the deeper Cambrian-Ordovician aquifers. Marcher and Bingham (1971) produced a hydrologic atlas of ground-water resources including those in the lower Paleozoic for the Tulsa quadrangle from available data in northeastern Oklahoma. Feder and others (1969) reported on ground-water availability and chemical quality for the Mississippian and Cambrian-Ordovician aquifers in the Joplin area in Missouri. Recently, Hathaway and Macfarlane (1980) and Macfarlane and others (198 1) discussed the regional hydrogeology and the spatial and temporal variations in chemical quality of ground water from the lower Paleozoic aquifers in the Tri-State region and adjoining areas.

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Kansas Geological Survey, Geohydrology
Placed on web Sept. 1, 2010; originally published 1987.
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