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Ford County Geohydrology

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Geology and Ground-water Resources of Ford County, Kansas

by Herbert A. Waite

with analyses by Robert H. Hess

Cover of the book; blue paper with black text, red binding.

Originally published in 1942 as Kansas Geological Survey Bulletin 43. This is, in general, the original text as reprinted in 1942. The information has not been updated. An Acrobat PDF version (29 MB) is also available, with plates available separately.

You may also wish to visit our web site on the Ford County geologic map.


This report describes the geography, geology, and the source, occurrence, availability, and chemical character of the ground water in Ford County, in southwestern Kansas. Much of Ford County is situated in the Plains Border section of the Great Plains province, about 75 percent of the county consisting of upland plains and the remainder of stream flood plains and intermediate slopes. Ford County embraces a total of 30 townships, or 1,082 square miles, and is drained by the Arkansas River and its tributaries. The county had a total population of 17,183 in 1940. Dodge City, the county seat, had a population of 8,487 in 1940. The climate is semiarid; the normal annual precipitation at Dodge City is about 20 1/2 inches. Wheat farming, some cattle raising, and general farming are the chief occupations in the county. Sand, gravel and some building stone are quarried in parts of the county.

The exposed rocks are of sedimentary origin, ranging in age from Cretaceous to Quaternary. The Ogallala formation (Pliocene) lies at or near the surface over much of the county north of the Arkansas River. The Kingsdown silt forms a thick surface mantle over most of the county south of the river. Dune sand occurs in a belt of varying width on the south side of Arkansas River and in two other isolated patches in the county. Late Quaternary alluvium floors the Arkansas valley and the valleys of some of the smaller streams. The Greenhorn limestone and Graneros shale (Upper Cretaceous) are exposed in the northern part of the county. The Dakota formation is the oldest formation exposed. Unexposed rocks below the Dakota formation include the Kiowa shale and Cheyenne sandstone and the Permian redbeds.

The Bazine anticline of Hodgeman County continues southeastward through Ford County, crossing the Arkansas River near Ford. Along this structure the Cretaceous rocks lie at or near the surface.

The Fowler fault in the vicinity of Fowler, northeastern Meade County, was encountered in southwestern Ford County by test drilling.

The report contains a map of the county showing the depth to water level by means of shading. The water table ranges in depth from less than 10 feet in areas of shallow water table along the Arkansas valley to about 200 feet in parts of the uplands. The report also contains a map of the county showing the shape and slope of the water table by means of contours. South of the Arkansas valley, where the Ogallala is the principal water-bearing formation, the water table conforms in general to the eastward-sloping bedrock floor and slopes about 7 feet to the mile. In the northeastern part of the county the slope of the water table is greater and is altered in direction by the shallow position of the underlying Dakota formation. Arkansas River and several smaller streams in the county have cut their valleys beneath the water table with the result that some ground water moves in toward the streams from both sides. Locally in the northern part of the county, down-cutting streams have either drained the Ogallala or have removed the formation entirely. Wells in this part of the county have been drilled into the underlying bedrock for water supplies.

Flowing wells are obtained in a narrow belt bordering Crooked Creek in the southwestern part of the county. The flows range from a scant trickle to about 3 gallons a minute. The artesian head was found to be only 1 foot above land surface in two wells whose heads were measured.

The groundwater reservoir is recharged by infiltration of part of the precipitation that falls within the county, by water that is moving into the county through the Ogallala formation, by water entering the Dakota formation in outcrop areas southwest of the county, and in part by water that is moving as underflow down the Arkansas valley and the valleys of several smaller perennial streams. Water is discharged from the underground reservoir mainly by lateral migration eastward out of the county as underflow, in part by transpiration and evaporation in areas of shallow water table, in part by movement toward Arkansas River and several smaller perennial streams, in part through small springs in the northern part of the county, and in small part by wells. Most of the domestic, stock, public, industrial, and irrigation water supplies are obtained from wells. Some water is recovered from gravity springs in the northern part of the county for domestic and stock use, but the flows generally are small.

Ground water is recovered principally from drilled wells, but there are a few dug wells, several dug and drilled wells, and a few driven wells. Most of the drilled domestic and stock wells have a separate cylinder and pump pipe within the outer casing, but a few in the southeastern part of the county are tubular wells in which the casing acts also as the pump pipe and has the cylinder attached directly to the bottom of the casing. Ground water is used by several industries in Ford County, principally for cooling and condensing--by a power plant, two railroads, several laundries, a creamery, a flour mill, a warehouse, and for air conditioning several buildings. The total pumpage from wells for industrial purposes in Ford County in 1938 amounted to about 3,830 acre-feet. Dodge City, Bucklin and Spearville, and the Kansas Soldiers' Home at Fort Dodge each have public water supplies derived from wells. In 1938, approximately 1,845 acre-feet of water was pumped from wells for public supplies. In the Arkansas valley a total of 187 irrigation wells was in operation in 1938. About 2,814 acres were irrigated, and about 4,760 acre-feet of water was pumped from these wells in 1938. There are also 10 irrigation wells on the uplands south of the Arkansas valley. Most of the irrigation wells in the Arkansas valley are equipped with horizontal centrifugal pumps, but those on the uplands are equipped with deep-well turbine pumps. There are several plants that pump irrigation water from streams, most of which are in the Arkansas valley. About 730 acre-feet of water was pumped or diverted from the Arkansas River in 1938 for irrigation. The possibility of developing additional ground water for irrigation in several parts of the county are discussed in the report.

The ground water is hard, but in general is of satisfactory quality for most purposes. The waters in the alluvium are in general considerably harder than the waters from the Ogallala formation or the Dakota formation.

The Ogallala is the principal water-bearing formation in the county. It is composed of structureless silt and fine sand together with some coarse sand and gravel and ranges in thickness from a few feet to 250 feet. In many places the deposits are consolidated by calcium carbonate, forming beds of caliche. Most of the water is obtained from the sands and gravels in the lower part of the formation. The Dakota formation furnishes water to many wells in the northeastern part of the county and to several irrigation wells in the southwestern part of the county. The Dakota comprises beds of lenticular sandstone, variegated shale, clay, and siltstone, and is about 235 feet thick, but only the upper part is exposed in Ford County. It is known to be much thinner in the southern part of the county, and is absent locally in the southeastern part of the county. No wells in the county are known to obtain water from the Cheyenne sandstone. Large supplies of water are obtained from wells in the alluvium of the Arkansas valley.

The basic field data upon which most of this report is based are given in tables, and include records of 531 wells and chemical analyses of the water from 69 representative wells and one spring. Logs of 80 test holes and water wells in the county are given, including 21 test holes put down during the investigation.

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Kansas Geological Survey, Ford County Geohydrology
Web version April 2002. Original publication date Dec. 1942.
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