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Geohydrology of Kiowa County

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Geology and Ground-water Resources of Kiowa County, Kansas

By Bruce F. Latta

with analyses by Howard Stoltenberg

Cover of the book; blue paper with black text.

Originally published in 1948 as Kansas Geological Survey Bulletin 65. This is, in general, the original text as published. The information has not been updated.

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


This report describes the geography, geology, and ground-water resources of Kiowa County in south-central Kansas. Kiowa County has a total area of about 720 square miles, and in 1940 had a population of 5,112. The area is in the Plains Border section of the Great Plains physiographic province. Approximately the northern one-third of the county is covered by sand hills and is characterized by typical sand-dune topography. Bordering the sand hills on the south are upland plains which comprise an east-west belt that is about 2 to 8 miles wide and extends across the central part of the county. This belt is characterized by gentle to moderate slopes and in places the surface is nearly flat. The southern part of the county has been deeply dissected by stream erosion resulting in a rugged topography having a local relief of about 300 feet. Approximately the northern half of Kiowa County is in the upper Arkansas drainage basin and is drained by Rattlesnake Creek and its tributaries. The southeastern and south-central parts of the county are in the lower Arkansas drainage basin and are drained by Medicine Lodge River and Mule Creek; the southwestern part is in the Cimarron drainage basin and is drained by tributaries of Sand Creek. The climate is of the subhumid to semiarid type, the mean annual precipitation being about 23 inches and the mean annual temperature about 56° F. Farming and stock raising are the principal occupations. Most of the cultivation is by dry-farming methods. In 1939 only 278 acres of land in the county were irrigated.

The exposed rocks are sedimentary and range in age from late Permian to Recent. A map showing the areas where the different rock formations crop out is included with the report. Most of the county is underlain by Quaternary deposits of silt (Kingsdown silt) or dune sand. Water-bearing silts, sands, and gravels of the Meade formation (Pleistocene) and the Ogallala formation (Tertiary) underlie the Kingsdown silt and the dune sand and crop out in the southern part of the county. Medicine Lodge River in the southeastern part of the county and Wiggins and East Kiowa creeks in the southwestern part have cut below the Quaternary and Tertiary sediments and exposed Cretaceous and Permian shales, sandstones, and gypsum. The Cretaceous rocks exposed in the area include the Dakota formation, Kiowa Shale, and Cheyenne sandstone; the Permian rocks include the Whitehorse sandstone, Dog Creek shale, and the Medicine Lodge gypsum member of the Blaine formation.

The report contains a map showing the depth of the water table in the county. This depth ranges from less than 10 feet in parts of the sand hills area to about 185 feet on the uplands south of Mullinville. Also included in the report is a water-table contour map that shows the shape and slope of the water table. Ground water moves through the northern part of Kiowa County in a general easterly direction. A prominent ground-water divide in the northwestern part of the dissected area causes the ground water entering the southern part of the county from the west to move in three directions: part northeastward, part eastward, and part southward. The gradient of the water table beneath the sand hills and upland plains averages about 10 feet to the mile and ranges from about 5 to 15 feet to the mile. In the dissected area the gradient of the water table averages about 20 feet to the mile and the maximum slope exceeds 40 feet to the mile.

The ground-water reservoir is recharged principally by precipitation within the area, by the addition of water from many of the ephemeral streams, and by ground water moving in from adjacent areas. Ground water is discharged from the ground-water reservoir by subsurface movement eastward into adjacent areas, by evaporation and transpiration in areas of shallow water table, by wells, and by springs and seepage areas. The springs in Kiowa County are classified as seepage or contact springs, and all occur in the dissected southern part of the county, where many of the valleys have been cut below the water table. Measurements of the flow of streams fed by springs and seepage areas in the county indicate that more than 19 million gallons of water a day is being discharged through springs and seepage areas. Water from many of the springs is utilized for domestic and stock use.

Most of the water supplies are obtained from wells. In 1941, there were 5 irrigation, 6 public-supply, 4 industrial, 1 railroad, and a large but unknown number of domestic and stock wells in the county. The five wells used for irrigation are all in the sand hills in the northern half of the county and derive water from sand and gravel of the Meade formation. Large supplies of water for irrigation or industrial use can be obtained from wells in the northern and east-central parts of the county. Much of the land in these areas is unsuited for irrigation, however, because the soils are too sandy and the surface is too irregular.

Sand and gravel beds of the Meade and Ogallala formations are the principal source of ground water in the county. They supply water to most of the domestic, stock, and industrial wells and to all of the irrigation and public supply wells. The Meade and Ogallala formations attain a maximum thickness of about 300 feet. The waters from these formations, although hard, are satisfactory for most purposes. Alluvium yields moderate amounts of very hard water to wells in the larger stream valleys. A few domestic and stock wells in the south-central and southeastern parts of the county derive their supplies from the Cheyenne sandstone. The Cheyenne is from 20 to 94 feet thick in this area and consists of fine- to coarse-grained friable sandstone and lenses of gray to black sandy shale. Water in the Cheyenne is highly mineralized and in some localities is unfit for ordinary purposes. The Whitehorse sandstone, which is about 60 feet thick and is composed chiefly of fine-grained friable sandstone and siltstone, supplies small quantities of very hard water to a few wells in southeastern Kiowa County. The Flowerpot shale supplies highly mineralized water to only one of the recorded wells in this area.

The field data upon which most of this report is based are given in tables. They include records of 101 wells and 21 springs and chemical analyses of the water from 32 representative wells and springs. Logs of 26 test holes, water wells, and oil test wells in the area are given, including 19 test holes put down by the State and Federal Geological Surveys. Also given are 18 measured sections that show the character of the various geologic formations at the surface.

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Kansas Geological Survey, Geology
Placed on web Feb. 4, 2008; originally published Feb. 1948.
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