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Ground-water Resources of Kansas

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Ground-water Resources of Kansas

Raymond C. Moore


Water is a necessity of life. Accordingly, every person is deeply interested in the subject of water supply. He knows that he must have water to drink. He depends indirectly on water for all his food and clothing. He may want water in which to wash. Civilized man has learned also that water serves admirably for a large and ever enlarging list of uses that depend on its easy convertibility from a liquid to a solid or gaseous state and its adaptability as a chemical solvent, a medium for transfer of matter or energy, and a regulator of temperature.

The average consumption of water in towns and cities of the United States amounts to about 100 gallons per person per day. Because of long familiarity with never-failing supplies of water provided by nature, or equally, because of unthinking dependence on others, many individuals are probably unaware of their interest in water, but let water become difficult or impossible to obtain, or let the quality of obtainable water be greatly changed, and there is immediate lively concern. Many Kansas persons--without doubt too many--give little thought to the subject of water when rainfall is normal and when ponds and streams are full, but not too full. Kansas has a smaller natural water supply than many other regions, but we are used to these conditions, and it is the strongly marked departures from what we regard as normal that cause anxiety. Periods of excessive heat and drought such as have recurred in Kansas, especially during the last half-dozen years, bring hardships to very many persons, particularly dwellers on the farm. Alarm is felt when field crops and pasture shrivel from lack of moisture and from heat, when there is insufficient water for the stock, when wells go dry, and when even some towns and cities must haul water in tank cars. Everyone is then water-conscious, as is true also under reverse conditions, when overabundance of rainfall produces disastrous floods.

It is obvious, however, that the subject of water supply should not be given attention only in the times of deficiency or overabundance. All citizens of Kansas should have enduring interest in questions of water control and conservation that will make for equable supply. No individual or governmental agency can increase or diminish the annual rainfall, nor safeguard wholly against occasional floods. It is possible, on the other hand, largely to avoid the distress due to severe shortage of water in recent years. This statement calls attention to the subject of water in the ground, or as commonly known, ground water. I have been asked to discuss the underground water resources of Kansas. I am asked to give answers to such questions as: In what places and under what conditions may water that is suitable for domestic and stock use be obtained from wells? Why are some water wells in Kansas never-failing large producers of excellent water, whereas others yield only small amounts of poor water and readily go dry? What improvements are possible in methods of finding and utilizing the ground-water resources that exist in Kansas? What provisions can be made to safeguard best against effects of prolonged drought?

These questions call for a discussion of some general principles that apply to accumulation and movement of water beneath the surface in Kansas, and especially to the various geologic conditions that are the fundamental factors in controlling variation in water supply from below ground. It will be desirable also to consider the characteristics of various districts in Kansas that may be differentiated as natural ground-water provinces, pointing out the distinguishing features of these districts. The basis for these distinctions is a difference in water-supply conditions that depends mainly on variation in the nature of underground rock structure.

Importance of ground-water resources

The importance of Kansas' ground-water resources may be emphasized from various viewpoints and in different ways. More than three-fourths of the public water supplies of Kansas are obtained from wells. In 1939, only 60 out of 375 municipal water supplies in Kansas, which is 16 percent, utilized surface waters. If the water wells of cities and those located on all privately owned land in the state were suddenly destroyed, making it necessary to go to streams, springs, lakes (which are almost all artificial), and ponds for water to supply domestic, stock, and industrial use, there would be almost incalculable difficulty and expense. If one could not go to springs, or dig new wells, or use any surface water derived from underground flow, much of Kansas would become uninhabitable. These suggested conditions seem absurd, but they emphasize our dependence on ground-water resources.

From a quantitative standpoint, ground-water supplies existent in Kansas far outweigh surface waters that are present in the state at anyone time. No exact figures for such comparison can be given, but, taking 384 square miles as the total surface water area of the state and estimating an average water depth of five feet, the computed volume of surface waters is found to be about 1/100th of that of the conservatively estimated ground-water storage in Kansas. The latter takes account only of potable fresh water and is based on an assumed mean thickness of ten feet of reservoir having an effective porosity of twenty percent. It is to be remembered, however, that most of the surface water is run-off, which soon leaves the state, stream valleys being replenished from rainfall and flow from ground-water reservoirs. Most of the ground-water supplies, on the other hand, have existed for many years with almost no appreciable movement-in fact, it is reasonably certain that some well water drawn from beneath the surface of Kansas in 1940 represents rainfall in this region at a time before the first white man entered Kansas, even before the visit of Coronado in the 16th century. Most ground water is to be regarded as water in storage rather than as water in transit.

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Kansas Geological Survey, Geohydrology
Placed on web Dec. 11, 2015; originally published June 25, 1940.
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