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Geohydrology of Norton and NW Phillips County

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Geology and Ground-water Resources of Norton County and Northwestern Phillips County, Kansas

By John C. Frye and A.R. Leonard

Originally published in 1949 as Kansas Geological Survey Bulletin 81. This is, in general, the original text as published. The information has not been updated.

You may also wish to visit our web sites on the Norton and Phillips county geologic maps.


This report describes the geography, geology, and ground-water resources of Norton County and northwestern Phillips County in north-central Kansas. The hydrologic and geologic information was obtained in the field during the years 1945-48 inclusive. Records for 241 wells in Norton County and 44 wells in northwestern Phillips County were collected, and 64 test holes were drilled to determine the thickness and character of the water-bearing materials. These data were utilized to plot a water-table map of the area. The outcropping rock formations were studied in the field and by aid of test-hole samples, and a geologic map and cross sections were prepared.

The area covered by this report lies in the Plains Border section of The Great Plains physiographic province. It is drained by North Fork Solomon River, a tributary to Smoky Hill River, and Sappa and Prairie Dog Creeks, tributaries to Republican River. For the most part the topography is moderately fine-textured and maturely dissected, with extensive flat areas occurring along the terraces of the major valleys, and at a few places on the upland divides. The climate is subhumid, the average annual precipitation being a little more than 20 inches. In addition to a generally deep fertile soil and the ground-water supplies,, the principal mineral resources of the area are oil and gas, volcanic ash, stone, and ceramic raw materials.

The oldest outcropping rock unit is the Smoky Hill chalk member of the Niobrara formation (Cretaceous), which underlies the entire area. Pierre shale (Cretaceous) overlies the Niobrara formation in northwestern Phillips County, where it has been protected from erosion by a structural downwarp. The Ogallala formation (Pliocene) overlies the Cretaceous rocks and, except along the major valleys, underlies nearly the entire area. The Ogallala formation constitutes the most widespread source of adequate well-water supplies in the area. The Sanborn formation (Pleistocene) overlies the Ogallala formation and constitutes the near-surface deposits of most of the area. The basal (Crete) member of the Sanborn occurs adjacent to major valleys and in restricted areas is an adequate source of potable ground water. The deposits underlying the prominent terrace surfaces in the three major valleys yield abundant supplies of water to wells, and alluvium is a source of ground-water in many tributary valleys.

North Fork Solomon River and Sappa and Prairie Dog Creeks are permanent streams in this area; nevertheless, wells supply nearly all the water for domestic, irrigation, and municipal uses. Four cities in Norton County (Almena, Clayton, Lenora, and Norton) and one in northwestern Phillips County (Long Island) obtain their water supplies from the terrace deposits and alluvium of the major valleys. Adequate supplies of ground water are available for additional irrigation wells at many places in the terrace deposits of the major valleys, at some places in the Crete sand and gravel member of the Sanborn formation along the north side of Prairie Dog Creek, and at a few places in the Ogallala formation under the Prairie Dog-Sappa Creek divide area in western Norton County. Most other places in the area do not have adequate ground-water supplies for extensive well-water irrigation.

Analyses of 45 samples of ground water are included in this report, together with a discussion of the principal chemical constituents in relation to the use and geologic occurrence of the water. Most of the ground water in the area is satisfactory for ordinary purposes, but some is sufficiently hard to require softening for special uses.

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Kansas Geological Survey, Geology
Placed on web July 18, 2008; originally published Dec. 1949.
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