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Geohydrology of Rice County (1950)

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Ground Water

Principles of Occurrence

The general principles of occurrence of ground water are discussed below as they apply to the rocks yielding water to wells in Rice County. For a more detailed treatment of the principles of occurrence of ground water the reader is referred to Meinzer (1923). A discussion of the occurrence of ground water as applied to Kansas was given by Moore and others (1940).

Rocks yielding potable water in Rice County are all of sedimentary origin. Most of the water available to wells occurs in the primary interstices, left between the particles or grains at the time of deposition. The large quantities of water available in the gravel, sand, and sandstone in the county are common examples of this type of occurrence. Smaller quantities of water are available to wells from the primary interstices in the finer-grained rocks, siltstone, and shales. Siltstones and shales of the Permian formations and Kiowa shale yield only meager supplies of water to many wells in the east-central part of the county. Most of the water from the finer-grained rocks, however, comes from secondary openings developed after the rocks were deposited. Openings of this type are developed by weathering along bedding planes, by fracture, and by solution of soluble minerals in the rocks.

Secondary modification of rocks after deposition also may act to decrease the size and number of interstices by compaction and by deposition of cementing materials between the grains. In many sandtsones in the Kiowa shale and Dakota formation the original interstices have been completely filled by iron minerals or calcium carbonate.

The source of water in the aquifers of the county is precipitation in the area and immediately adjacent areas. Streams in the area contribute to the ground-water recharge only at flood stage. Some of the precipitation percolates downward and reaches the zone of saturation. This is the zone in which all interconnecting interstices are filled with water. The upper surface of the zone of saturation is called the water table, except where this surface is formed by an impermeable bed. In some small areas within the county conditions of perched water table are found. This occurs when the water is interrupted in its downward percolation by a more impermeable bed above the water table and a relatively small zone of saturation is maintained, at least temporarily, at a higher level.

The percentage of the volume of a rock occupied by openings or interstices is termed its porosity, and determines the capacity of the rock to contain water. The capacity of the rock to transmit water under pressure is expressed as the permeability of the rock. The rate at which an aquifer will yield water to a well is largely dependent upon the permeability. Very fine-grained material such as silt and clay may have a high porosity and be saturated with water, but may yield little or no water to wells because of its low permeability. Sand and gravel may have a lower porosity and thus contain less water than the silt and clay, but, being more permeable because of the larger size of its openings, will transmit water readily to wens. Rocks in which the openings are so small that under ordinary conditions water will not pass through them appreciably are called impermeable.

The Water Table

The surface configuration of the water table is shown on Plate 1 by water-table contours. All points on the water table along the same contour are at equal altitude. The contours show the shape and slope of the water table in the same manner that a topographic map shows the surface of the land. The movement of ground water is at right angles to the contours in the direction of slope. The topography of the area usually controls the general shape and slope of the water table. This general surface of the ground-water body is modified by differences in the permeability of the surface and subsurface material. A hill in the water table may be found under sand-dune areas, because of the high rate of ground-water recharge made possible by the permeable nature of the sand. Examples of these ground-water highs are found in the sand-dune area north of Raymond in western Rice County and in the Hutchinson sand-dune area in the southeastern corner of the county. Depressions in the water table due to surface discharge by streams are evident wherever the stream channels are cut below the water table. Depressions in the water table may also be caused by subsurface discharge through material of higher permeability. Special examples of this condition are found in underflow conduits which consist of permeable deposits underlying surface streams and surrounded by rocks of relatively low permeability. An example of this is indicated by the broad upstream flexures of contours along Little Cow Creek. The Recent shallow alluvium of Little Cow Creek is underlain by a deeper, wider channel containing sand and gravel and separated from the present stream alluvium by a thick section of silt and clay.

The water table is not a fixed surface but rises and falls in response to varying conditions. The chief cause for these fluctuations is the irregularity in the rate at which water is added to and taken from the ground-water body. The fluctuations of the water level in five wells in Rice County and the monthly precipitation at the U. S. Weather Bureau station at Lyons are shown in Figure 6. The graphs of the water level show close correlation with the seasonal variations in precipitation. The most immediate response to precipitation was found to be in those wells in which the permeable material of the aquifer extended to the surface. The five wells were selected to show the range in variations under different topographic and lithologic conditions. Well 19-7-34ab taps a sandstone aquifer that is overlain by a thick section of relatively impermeable silt. Well 19-7-24ab is in sandstone that extends to the surface and the response of the water level to precipitation is more easily discerned. Also, well 19-7-24ab is near the border of a dissected area where discharge through springs accentuates the ground-water lows. The aquifer tapped by well 19-6-13dd is siltstone which is overlain by impermeable shale. Well 20-6-23cdd has a similar siltstone aquifer and the siltstone extends to the surface. Well 19-6-13dd is in an area of gentle slope. The 11-foot rise in water level in well 20-6-23cdd from February to May 1947 was the largest rise in water level observed in wells in Rice County. Wells 21-8-20cc and 19-10-22bc are in gravel aquifers which extend nearly to the surface. Well 21-8-20cc, however, is overlain by a thin silt mantle; well 19-10-22bc is covered by thin dune sand and shows a more abrupt response to precipitation. Both wells are in undissected areas.

Figure 6--Hydrographs showing fluctuations of the water level in five wells in Rice County and monthly precipitation at Lyons.

Hydrographs showing fluctuations of the water level as well as precipitation.

Records of measurements of 22 observation wells in Rice County are being published in annual water-level reports of the U. S. Geological Survey. The well numbers used in this report are correlated with those used in the annual water-level reports (Table 2).

Table 2--Observation wells in Rice County.

Well number in
this report
Well number in
water-level reports
of U. S. Geological Survey
19-7-34ab 1
19-7-24ab 2
19-6-13dd 3
20-6-23cdd 4
20-6-36bb 5
21-6-11bb 6
18-6-13bc 7
18-7-10ad 8
18-8-10dc 9
18-9-22ad 10
18-10-2ca 11
19-10-22bc 12
20-10-28ba 13
21-9-28ad 14
21-8-20cc 15
20-9-13cc 16
19-8-9cd 17
18-8-33ba 18
19-6-17ba 19
18-6-29ddd(N) 20N
18-6-29ddd(C) 20C
18-6-29ddd(S) 20S


Ground water is recovered by wells penetrating the zone of saturation or by springs developed at the outcrop of an aquifer. A few springs have been developed in the Cretaceous outcrop area in the county. All springs visited in the county are simple gravity springs. Most of them are depression springs in which dissection by streams has reached the water table and cut into permeable beds in the zone of saturation. Contact springs occur in many places where permeable beds overlie beds of low permeability. These are common at the contact of the Dakota and underlying Kiowa, where medium to coarse sandstone overlies finer sandstone or tightly cemented sandstone, and in the Dakota formation and Kiowa shale, where sandstone beds overlie relatively impermeable clay and shale. Several contact springs in the Kiowa occur at Little River Lake 2 miles west of Little River (Pl. 9B). The springs issue as seeps over a wide area, the water emerging from many openings between grains in the sandstone.

In order to increase the available supply of water, several methods of spring development are used. The method most used in the county is that of constructing dams in the drainageways below the point of issue of the spring or seep. A number of supplies of this type for stock water and recreational facilities have been developed in the Cretaceous outcrop area in the northeastern part of the county. Several depression and contact springs from dune sand and terrace deposits occur in other parts of the county, but their period of activity is usually confined to a few days or weeks following a rain. There are a few exceptions to this, notably the springs along Spring Creek east of Chase, which are reported to have flowed continuously through years of low rainfall. Extensive sand dunes and terrace deposits in the Chase area are the source for this flow. The impounded flow from these springs is used to some extent in irrigation of crops during periods of insufficient rainfall.

A common method of utilizing springs for domestic and stock use consists of concentrating the flow at the point of issue. This is done by cleaning out a small gathering pit, with walls for diverting the flow into a single channel, or by driving or boring a hole or series of lateral holes into the aquifer, and by collecting the flow into a single outlet. The permanence of springs depends upon the capacity of their reservoirs to store and transmit water. The flow of all springs in the area fluctuates with local precipitation.

Wells in the county are bored, dug, drilled, or driven. Wells can be driven from the surface into the Arkansas River alluvial deposits where not overlain by great thicknesses of silt and clay. Often the wells are dug or bored through the soil zone and silt and driven into the water-bearing sand and gravel. Most of the domestic and stock wells in the Arkansas River Valley are constructed by driving a 3-foot brass screen sand point of 1 1/4-inch diameter into the gravel. The 1 1/4-inch pipe is added in sections as the point is driven downward. The water is within suction limit of the surface over most of the valley and pitcher pumps and surface cylinders are used to some extent. It is common practice, however, to dig a pit below the frost zone to prevent the cylinder from freezing in the winter. Similar driven wells are used over much of the area of the Chase Channel. Higher yields are obtained in this material by properly constructed drilled wells.

The domestic and stock wells in the rest of the county are dug or drilled. Thirty- to fifty-inch hand-dug wells are common over most of the Sanborn and Cretaceous area. In general, wells are dug through the unconsolidated silt and to or into a sandstone zone in the Cretaceous. In many places a thin rubble zone, just above the Cretaceous rocks, yields water to the wells. Most of the domestic and stock wells developed in recent years have been drilled, usually by the percussion method. Usually the drilled wells extend farther below the water table and are less likely to fail in times of drought. In a few places in the county, in silt and sand deposits along tributary streams, shallow wells are bored by hand augers.


Industrial Supplies

Much ground water is used in Rice County for industrial supplies. The Missouri Pacific Railroad has an independent water supply in the City of Bushton. This supply consists of two wells penetrating sandstone of the Dakota formation. The wells are reported to be 100 feet deep and cased with 5- and 7-inch casings and are equipped with cylinder pumps. The use of water from this source is reported to range from 10,000 to 30,000 gallons a day.

Water used at the Bushton Compressor Station of the Northern Natural Gas Company is pumped from wells penetrating sandstones in the Dakota formation and Kiowa shale. Three wells are located at the plant 2 1/2 miles east of Bushton (wells 18-9-6aa1, 2, and 3 in Table 6). The wells range in depth from 160 to 210 feet. The inner casing of the wells is reported to be of 10-inch diameter, perforated opposite the upper sandstone. The hole is uncased in the lower sandstone. At the time of completion, well 18-9-6aa1 was pumped for 10 hours at 70 gallons a minute and well 18-9-6aa2 was pumped for 10 hours at 75 gallons a minute. The average daily pumpage from the group of three wells was reported to be about 85,000 gallons.

Much ground water is used in the production of salt. The American Salt Company, south of Lyons, has three wells in the Pleistocene alluvium of Arkansas River Valley in sec. 10, T. 20 S., R. 8 W., for boiler use and for use in the brine-evaporation process. Two of these wells are reported to be 80 feet deep, eased with 12-inch perforated iron casing, and the reported pumpage is 500 gallons a minute from each well. The third well is reported to be 80 feet deep and cased with 30-inch concrete ring casing and to have a yield of 1,500 gallons a minute.

Many wells have been drilled in Rice County to supply water for oil- and gas-drilling operations. Most of these wells are cased with 8-inch steel casing. The depths depend upon the location of the well and the kind of material penetrated, but they range from about 60 to 200 feet. The average depth of these wells is probably about 80 feet. Most of the wells are abandoned and the casing pulled after completion of the oil wells, but some are kept for other uses. Records of a few of these wells are found in Table 6 at the end of this report.

Irrigation Supplies

Irrigation has never been practiced extensively in Rice County. A few small wells are used each year for irrigating farm gardens. Other, larger wells have been used, mostly for irrigating feed crops during years of drought. All the irrigation wells visited were located in the Arkansas River Valley and their water supply originates in Pleistocene alluvium. In 1945 and 1946 none of these wells was in operation. Motors and pumps set in pits over many of these wells were flooded by a rise of the water table after two seasons of above normal precipitation, in 1944 and 1945. The wells are usually constructed with a pit or cellar for a centrifugal pump, with a hole of smaller diameter for the casing and intake pipe.

The casing diameter of the irrigation wells in Rice County ranges from 8 to 20 inches, the depth from 30 to 60 feet, and the reported yield from 200 to 800 gallons a minute. Gasoline motors or tractors are used for power. One pumping plant consists of a battery of four wells supplying a centrally located centrifugal pump. None of the pumps was in operating condition at the time of the investigation and accurate pumpage figures are not available. Records of seven irrigation wells are given in Table 6.

Public Supplies

The cities of Lyons, Sterling, Chase, Geneseo, Little River, and Bushton have public water supplies obtained from wells.

Lyons--The water supply of Lyons is obtained from two stations which pump from wells in the Pleistocene alluvium of the Arkansas River Valley. The wells are located 1 1/4 miles south of the city limits on Kansas Highway 14. At station 1 (well 20-8-9dd1) a battery of seven wells, 8 inches in diameter, is pumped from a single point by electrically driven centrifugal pumps. Station 2 (well 20-8-9dd2), 400 feet south of station 1, is equipped with a single gravelpacked well, 24 inches in diameter, pumped by an electrically driven turbine pump. A third well (20-8-16aa) was drilled in 1947 to supplement the supply. The water is pumped through two feeder mains into the distribution system, the excess going into a 250,000-gallon elevated steel tank. The water is moderately hard (Table 3) but is below the average hardness of water of Kansas municipal supplies. The average daily consumption is about 1,500,000 gallons.

Sterling--A battery of seven wells (21-8-21ba) in Sterling supplies water from the Pleistocene alluvium in the Arkansas River Valley. The wells are near the municipal power plant in the northcentral part of Sterling. A stand-by well (21-8-21bb) is maintained for emergency and peak use. The battery of wells is pumped by electrically driven centrifugal pumps. The stand-by well is equipped with an electrically driven turbine pump. The water is pumped directly into the mains; there are no facilities for extra storage of water. The water is moderately hard (Table 3) and contains 1.4 parts per million of fluoride. The average daily consumption is 500,000 gallons.

Chase--One well (19-9-31), which obtains water from the Todd Valley sand and gravel, supplies Chase. The well is located in the northern part of Chase at Cedar Street and A Avenue. The well is equipped with a 250 gallon-a-minute electrically driven turbine pump. The water is pumped directly into the distribution system, the excess going into a 50,000-gallon elevated steel tank. The water is of good quality; being only moderately hard (Table 3).

Geneseo--The City of Geneseo is supplied by three wells penetrating sandstone of the Dakota formation. The wells are located near a spring site 1 1/2 miles north and half a. mile west of Geneseo, in Ellsworth County. The wells are reported to be 10 inches in diameter and about 80 feet deep and are equipped with electrically driven turbine pumps. One well is reported to yield 77 gallons a minute with a drawdown of 30 feet at the end of a 25-hour test. The water is pumped into the distribution system, the excess going into a 50,000-gallon elevated steel tank. The water is moderately hard, but otherwise is of good quality. The average daily consumption is about 50,000 gallons.

Little River--Little River is supplied by two wells (18-6-29dda and 18-6-29ddd), located 3 miles north of town, which obtain water from the sandstone of the Marquette member of the Kiowa shale. The north well is 55 feet deep and the south well is 48 feet deep; both were dug 15 feet in diameter and lined with concrete. The diameter of the casing is reduced to 8 feet near the water level to accommodate a gravel pack between the casing and the sandstone. Each well is equipped with a turbine pump, driven by a 3-horsepower electric motor. The wells are pumped intermittently at 50 gallons a minute. Well 18-6-29ddd was pumped 6 hours at 54 gallons a minute with a drawdown of 12 feet, at which point the water level was at the lower end of the intake pipe. The water is pumped 3 miles into Little River and into the distribution system which includes a 50,000-gallon elevated steel tank. The water is moderately hard, but otherwise is of good quality. The average daily consumption is 35,000 gallons.

Two wells, which are a quarter of a mile north of the city, are maintained on a stand-by basis for emergency and peak use. The wells are about 47 feet deep and 12 feet in diameter and are walled with brick. The water is obtained from the Pleistocene alluvium of the Little Arkansas River Valley. These wells supplied the city until 1945, at which time the wells in the Kiowa were constructed to obtain a supply of water of better quality.

Bushton--The City of Bushton is supplied by two gravelpacked wells (18-10-2ac1 and 18-10-2ac2), located in the northern part of town, which obtain water from sandstone of the Dakota formation. The wells are reported to be 103 and 99.2 feet deep and are cased with 8-inch iron casing. Each well is equipped with an electrically driven turbine pump with a rated capacity of 70 gallons a minute against a pressure of 50 pounds. The drawdown is reported to be about 13 feet. The water is pumped directly into the distribution system, the excess going into a 50,000-gallon elevated steel tank. The water is of good quality and only moderately hard. The average daily consumption is 40,000 gallons.

Possibilities of Developing Additional Supplies

The development of additional water supplies in Rice County depends on the saturated thickness of the water-bearing materials and the specific yield of the material. The amount of water that can be pumped perennially depends also on the periodic groundwater replenishment from precipitation, on percolation from streams, and movement of ground water into the area from the sides.

The saturated thickness of the Tertiary and Quaternary deposits in Rice County is shown in Figure 7. The contours showing saturated thickness were prepared by superimposing the water-table contour map (Pl. 1) on the map showing the configuration of the Pre-Tertiary surface (Fig. 5) and drawing the contours through points of equal thickness. The water-bearing materials have a saturated thickness of as much as 200 feet in Chase Channel and 180 feet in Arkansas River Valley. In part of the county, the water table occurs in the Cretaceous deposits, which are shown on Figure 7 as occurring between contour lines representing zero thickness of saturated material.

Figure 7--Saturated thickness of the Tertiary and Quaternary deposits in Rice County. Prepared by Glenn C. Prescott.

Saturated thickness of the Tertiary and Quaternary deposits in Rice County.

Additional wells with yields of several hundred to a thousand gallons a minute for irrigation, industrial, and municipal use could be developed at many points in the Arkansas River Valley in Rice County. Over most of the valley the static water level is not more than 10 feet below the land surface and the thickness of saturated material ranges from 50 to about 100 feet, except in the extreme southern part of the county where it has a thickness of as much as 180 feet. Ground-water recharge facilities in the valley are good. Sandy soil, sand dunes, and coarse terrace material with a hummocky topography provide ideal conditions for intake of precipitation. Ground water in excess of needs and in sufficient amount to hamper agricultural and industrial activities is a problem in years of above normal rainfall in the south-central part of this area. A high water table in the years of 1944 and 1945 caused overtaxing of the sewer system in Sterling and presented drainage problems for farms in the area.

A thickness of as much as 180 feet of saturated material is found in the Chase Channel, but careful test drilling must be done to determine the most favorable locations for wells. Large supplies can be developed in this area, but there are many areas in and near the oil fields where brine is encountered in the normally fresh-water zones. Consequently, careful sampling of the water from different gravel and sand zones is a necessary precaution before constructing expensive wells. Conditions favorable for recharge from rainfall are present over much of this area. The extensive sand dunes south and north of Chase are efficient precipitation catchment and infiltration areas.

Wells of small yield, 10 to 50 gallons a minute, can be developed over most of the rest of the county from sandstone in the Dakota and Kiowa. Where a favorable thickness of sandstone is encountered, as in the Bushton area, these rocks will yield 70 to 80 gallons a minute from properly constructed wells.

The terrace deposits of the smaller streams in the area will yield 5 to 30 gallons a minute in many places, but careful test boring is necessary to locate the irregular sand lenses. The only area where at least small potable supplies are often absent is in and near the outcrop of lower Kiowa and Permian shales east and south of Little River.

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Kansas Geological Survey, Geohydrology
Placed on web June 16, 2015; originally published July 1950.
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