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Rush Springs Aquifer Studies for the Caddo Nation

Characterization of the Hydrology within the Caddo Nation Jurisdictional Area in Western Oklahoma: A Multiyear, Multiphased Approach to Providing Information for the Caddo Nation Development of a Comprehensive Water Plan

By Shana L. Mashburn, S. Jerrod Smith, Samuel H. Rendon, and Kevin A. Smith

Problem


Outcrop of Rush Springs Sandstone The Rush Springs aquifer underlies about 2,400 square miles in west-central Oklahoma (fig. 1), where the aquifer is used predominantly for agricultural water supply (Tortorelli, 2009). In addition, most of the communities overlying the aquifer rely either solely or partly on groundwater from this aquifer. Increases in industrial and public water supply needs have led to increased development of water resources within the Rush Springs aquifer. As new areas within the aquifer are developed, increased water withdrawals may result in decreases in available water resources and conflicts between water consumers.

Recent applications for large capacity public-supply wells have heightened the awareness of the Caddo Nation to the vulnerability of the Rush Springs aquifer as a long-term, reliable source of water to tribal members for domestic, industrial, agricultural, and cultural uses. Streamflow and preservation of springs and wetlands, which are physically connected to the Rush Springs aquifer, are important cultural resources to the Caddo Nation. Concern for the long-term viability of the groundwater resources has resulted in development of a comprehensive water plan by the Caddo Nation. A comprehensive water plan will provide a roadmap for sustainable development and preservation of the water resources currently available to the tribe. The Caddo Nation in cooperation with the USGS has initiated a multiphase program that will provide information and tools to better manage and protect the surface and groundwater resources and to help develop a comprehensive water plan for the Caddo Nation.

Irrigation near Albert, OK The Caddo Nation jurisdictional area is located in western Oklahoma covering parts of Caddo, Canadian, Grady, and Blaine Counties. Major streams in the Caddo Nation area are the Canadian River, Spring Creek, Sugar Creek, Cobb Creek, and the Washita River. There are 2 major reservoirs in the Caddo Nation area: Fort Cobb Reservoir on Cobb Creek and Lake Chickasha on Spring Creek, both of which are used for public water supply. The major source of water in the Caddo Nation area is groundwater from the Rush Springs aquifer (hereafter referred to as the Rush Springs). More than 50 percent of the water use within Caddo County is supplied by groundwater, most of which is from the Rush Springs (Tortorelli, 2009).

The Rush Springs is a major source of water for irrigation, domestic, and public supplies. A Permian-age sandstone bedrock aquifer, the Rush Springs is unconfined in most locations where pumping occurs, has a maximum thickness of approximately 300 feet, and can produce well yields in excess of 1,000 gallons per minute. Perennial streamflow occurs in many creeks overlying the Rush Springs and originate from springs and seeps discharging from the Rush Springs. Water quality in the Rush Springs can be very good; however gypsum deposits in adjoining geologic units and within the Rush Springs can result in very high sulfate concentrations making the water unsuitable for human consumption.

Several stakeholders have an interest in the sustainability of the Rush Springs. These include several Native American Tribes which are the Apache, Caddo, Comanche, Cheyenne-Arapaho, Delaware, Fort Sill Apache, Kiowa, and Wichita. Several rural water districts and municipalities rely on the Rush Springs as their only source of water supply. Due to the sandy soil overlying the Rush Springs, dryland farming is not feasible and irrigation is required for most sustained cultivated agriculture. Interest in the Rush Springs by the Caddo Nation includes the capacity to use the aquifer for domestic supply. The Caddo Nation has strong cultural ties to water, particularly springs, streams, and wetlands. Maintenance of these surface water features that have cultural significance is directly related to water-table elevations in the Rush Springs. Development of the Rush Springs over time, particularly for consumptive use, creates concern for the future water resources available to the Caddo Nation.

Caddo-Rush Springs Study Area Interactive Map
- Rush Springs aquifer boundary
- Caddo Nation jurisdictional boundary
Spring/seep Spring/seep location
USGS gage USGS gage
    Panoramio photos
Real-time well Real-time, continuous water-levels
Synoptic well Synoptic water-levels
    August 2011 bridge observations:
     Dry Dry; Wet Wet; Ponded Ponded; Flowing Flowing

References to non-U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) products do not constitute an endorsement by the DOI. By viewing the Google Maps API on this web site the user agrees to these TERMS of Service set forth by Google.

Figure 1. Map showing the extent of the Rush Springs aquifer and Caddo Nation jurisdictional area, with USGS gages, continuous and synoptic water-level recorder wells, spring/seep locations, and stream observations at bridges within the Rush Spring aquifer boundary.

Objectives and Scope


This project is funded by the Caddo Nation, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, and the U.S. Geological Survey Cooperative Water Program for the purpose of providing scientific and technical assistance to the Caddo Nation. The objective of this multiphase approach is to provide information on the quantity and quality of the surface-water and groundwater resources within the jurisdictional boundary of the Caddo Nation (fig. 1). The current scope of the project is within the Caddo Nation jurisdiction, but interest from other tribes in the area could warrant extending the scope of the project. Polly Edwards, Caddo Nation Environmental Director, has been communicating with other tribes in the area to solicit interest in the study since those tribes are also stakeholders in the water resources in the area.

Phase I: Data-Gap Analysis

The first phase of the study was a data-gap analysis to determine the data needs to adequately characterize the surface-water and groundwater resources and to determine the data needed to develop a three-dimensional groundwater flow model of the Rush Springs aquifer. Findings from the data-gap analysis identified the specific data needs, sources of existing data, and availability of the data. Temporal and spatial aspects of existing data were considered, along with the quality of the data, to identify gaps where data needed to be acquired. Information and data on water levels, streamflow, water use, GIS coverages, springs, recharge, evapotranspiration, and climate were acquired for the data-gap analysis. These findings were compiled into a presentation to the Caddo Nation in 2009 and outlined priorities of future data collection.

Phase II: Synoptic and Continuous Water Levels

Real-time continuous watel-level recorder well near Hinton, OK

The second phase of the study was a water-level data collection effort. Temporal and spatial water-level data were measured in the Rush Springs aquifer. Thirty wells (fig. 1) across Caddo Nation jurisdictional area were measured monthly starting in July 2010 and ending in January 2011. Most wells were domestic wells that were mostly shallow (less than 200 feet) and water levels from the wells approximated the uppermost water table in the aquifer. Water-level data collected were entered into the USGS National Water Information System (NWIS) database and are accessible online.

In addition to the monthly water-level measurements, five wells were selected for continuous water-level monitoring (fig. 1). Locations of these wells were spatially distributed to allow adequate coverage throughout the study area. These wells have a compensated pressure transducer installed. Water-levels are recorded every fifteen minutes and transmitted via DCP and satellite to the USGS National Water Information System (NWIS) database and accessible real-time online. The network of five continuous, real-time water-level wells were installed in October 2010. Water-level data were also compiled in the USGS Annual Data Report. Water-level data will be used to refine the conceptual understanding of groundwater flow and responses to climate and water use. Water-level information will also be utilized to calibrate future groundwater flow models and observe annual water-level trends.

Phase III: Springs and Wetlands Inventory

The primary objective of this study was to document springs and wetlands observed while driving most of the section roads within the Caddo Nation jurisdictional boundary. Wetlands primarily were identified using a combination of data sources including the National Wetlands Inventory, soils maps, and aerial photographs. Spring discharge areas were identified by documenting stream conditions in the study area. Because of severe and persistent drought in western Oklahoma, many of the streams in the study area ran dry in the summer of 2011. We took advantage of this circumstance by running a three-week field survey of stream conditions aimed at locating spring discharge areas. During this survey, we visited the county and state road bridges over streams in the Caddo jurisdictional area, noting whether the stream was dry, wet, ponded, or flowing. We also looked for spring locations visible from public lands during the survey, documenting more than 20 new spring/seep sites. Two of these sites are located in Red Rock Canyon State Park. All of the documented spring locations were discharging at very low rates at the time they were identified. Spring discharge in the study area seems to be primarily in the form of distributed seep areas rather than distinct openings in the rocks. For these reasons, no attempt was made to quantify the discharge of the spring/seep areas. The spring locations and bridge observations are published in an interactive map (fig.1).

One of the challenges with spring identification in the study area is that much of the study area is occupied by canyons and other impassable topography that was not accessible during the bridge survey, so some areas were not well surveyed. Also, many of the spring discharge areas may have been inundated by ponds on private land (many ponds were full and spillways were discharging water during the drought); we are unsure of the best way to document these discharge areas.

Spring in Red Rock Canyon State Park near Hinton, OK

Video from a spring near Hinton, OK
Video from a spring near Hinton, Okla.

Phase IV: GW/SW Interaction

Cobb Creek piezometer

The objective of this study was to obtain data to better understand groundwater flow in relationship to streams in the Rush Springs aquifer. Piezometers were installed in the shallow alluvial aquifer adjacent to USGS gage 07325800 (Cobb Creek near Eakly, Okla.) to observe the changes in head within the aquifer as they relate to stage of the stream to determine the dynamics of the groundwater and surface-water interaction. Piezometers were installed in a line perpendicular to the channel starting at the edge of the creek embankment and ending in an upland piezometer above the historical flood stage (fig. 2A). Piezometers were installed into the upper 10 feet of the water table using push technology.

In April 2011, five water-table piezometers were installed in the Cobb Creek alluvium of Cobb Creek using a Geoprobe®. These piezometers were 20-45 feet deep and water levels were recorded at about 10-20 feet below land surface. Three of these piezometers were equipped with pressure transducers which record water levels to an internal datalogger at 15 minute intervals. In August 2011, an additional piezometer (Well 0) was manually installed just a few feet from the edge of the baseflow channel. This piezometer was equipped with a datalogging pressure transducer, and a continuously recording barometer was installed in the gage house at the site. Preliminary inspection of the water level data revealed signatures representative of occasional nearby pumping and evapotranspiration. The Cobb Creek stream gage height and shallow water table lowered as a result of the severe and persistent drought conditions in western Oklahoma during 2011-12.

Because of the 2011-12 drought conditions in western Oklahoma, very few substantial discharge events occurred in Cobb Creek. However, a 2-3 year flood event occurred in early November 2011, reaching a peak discharge greater than 2,000 cubic feet per second. The average discharge at Cobb Creek near Eakly is 10-20 cubic feet per second. The November flood event partially destroyed the riser pipe of the piezometer nearest the channel and pulled the transducer from the piezometer. About two months of data were not recorded at the stream-edge piezometer until the riser pipe was repaired and the transducer reinstalled in early January 2012. Since that time, only one substantial discharge event (June 7-12, 2012) occurred in Cobb Creek (fig. 2B).

Phase V: Continuous Water Levels and Streambed Conductance

Cobb Creek near Eakly, Okla.

The network of five continuous, real-time water-level wells installed during fiscal year 2010 was maintained for another year through the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2012. In addition, streambed hydraulic conductivity was measured at 10 sites along major streams in the study area. Temporary, small diameter (less than 2 inches) test holes were pushed into the streambed sediments using direct-push methods and a series of slug tests were performed at various depth intervals until refusal point. In addition to these hydraulic conductivity measurements, water levels were measured at the base of the streambed sediments and the bottom of the stream via a piezometer at the 10 sites to determine flow directions. Seepage meters were deployed at 5 sites to measure the amount of flow exchanged between the streambed/stream interface over a specified amount of time, which provides an estimate of flow rates between the aquifer and streams. Measurements of streambed hydraulic conductivity, flow rates, and heads combined will provide data on the stream/aquifer fluxes of water. Streambed hydraulic conductivity is the key parameter controlling the water fluxes across the stream/aquifer interface and provides a method to quantify the exchange of water between groundwater and surface water. The streambed hydraulic conductivity will be utilized in the development of the future groundwater flow model.

Phase VI: Continuous Water Levels and Interim Report

The network of five continuous, real-time water-level wells installed during fiscal year 2010 continues to be maintained. In addition to maintaining this network, a USGS online Scientific Investigations Report summarizing the data collected during Phases II through V was published in 2014. This report summarized streamflows in terms of interactions between surface water and groundwater, presented a map of the location and flow conditions of springs documented during the summer of 2011, summarized the surface water/groundwater interaction occurring on a local scale at Cobb Creek at Eakly site, and provided estimates of flow rates and direction of flow in streambeds with estimated streambed hydraulic conductivity from 10 sites.

SIR 2014-5082 SIR 2014-5082 — Evaluation of groundwater and surface-water interactions in the Caddo Nation Tribal Jurisdictional Area, Caddo County, Oklahoma, 2010–13. By Shana L. Mashburn and S. Jerrod Smith. Prepared in cooperation with the Caddo Nation, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the Bureau of Reclamation.




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