Eagle Creek Basin Water Budget and Effects of Groundwater Pumping on Streamflow in North Fork Eagle Creek, Lincoln County, New Mexico

Science Center Objects

North Fork Eagle Creek is located in the Sacramento Mountains of south-central New Mexico. Urban and resort development have placed increasing demands on surface- and ground-water resources of the area. The Village of Ruidoso obtains 60 to 70 percent of its water supply from the Eagle Creek basin, including 4 wells (the North Fork wells) on U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service land. The North Fork wells, located near the North Fork Eagle Creek channel, were drilled in 1985. Three of the North Fork wells were put into use in 1988, and remain in use to the present time. Since the wells were put into use consultants have reported that North Fork Eagle Creek has, at times, no streamflow in the reach adjacent to the North Fork wells.

The Forest Service and the Village of Ruidoso have agreed to perform a hydrologic study to answer questions about the relation between ground-water pumped from the North Fork wells and streamflow in North Fork Eagle Creek. Specific questions that the Forest Service has asked the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to address include: can current estimates of ground-water recharge over the Eagle Creek basin be refined; how do pumping rates affect streamflow; is water that is lost from North Fork Eagle Creek just upstream of the North Fork wells actually pumped out of the North Fork wells. These questions will be addressed using a variety of techniques.

 

PROBLEM

North Fork Eagle Creek is located in the Sacramento Mountains of south-central New Mexico. The cool green forests and clear streams of the Sacramento Mountains have long been sought-after destinations for plains- and desert-weary travelers. In recent years, urban and resort development, and drought conditions, have placed increasing demands on surface- and ground-water resources of the area. As a result, communities and residents in the Sacramento Mountains are concerned about potential and, in some cases, actual, water shortages.

The Village of Ruidoso obtains 60 to 70 percent of its water from the Eagle Creek basin. In the 1980’s the village drilled 4 wells (the North Fork wells), with depths ranging from 599 to 800  feet below land surface, on U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service (Forest Service) land along North Fork Eagle Creek to supplement existing surface- and ground-water supplies. In 1985, the Forest Service issued a special-use permit to allow the Village of Ruidoso to drill the North Fork wells on and lay water pipeline across Forest Service land. Three of the four wells were put into use in 1988 and remain in use to the present time. The fourth well is used to monitor water levels.

An existing streamflow gaging station (Eagle Creek below South Fork near Alto, NM – called the Eagle Creek gage) is located downstream of the confluence of the North and South Forks of Eagle Creek and does not accurately reflect flow in North Fork Eagle Creek when South Fork Eagle Creek is flowing. Finch and others (2004) documented that in April and May 2003 all of the water in North Fork Eagle Creek disappeared into the streambed upstream of the North Fork well field, there was no streamflow in the reach adjacent to the well field, and water reappeared in reaches of the creek downstream of the well field. From summer 2005 through early summer 2006 the lack of winter and spring moisture caused streamflow at the Eagle Creek gage to be very small or nonexistent.

Recently, a lawsuit has been filed concerning the Village of Ruidoso’s use of water from the Eagle Creek basin and the potentially related decreased streamflow in Eagle Creek. The Forest Service currently (2006) is in the process of reviewing the special-use permit request, but must complete an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) before the permit can be reissued. The Forest Service and the Village of Ruidoso have agreed to perform a hydrologic study in relation to the potential effect of the North Fork well field on streamflow in the North Fork of Eagle Creek. Data and interpretations from the hydrologic study will be incorporated into the EIS.

Specific questions that need to be addressed in this study include:

-can current estimates of ground-water recharge over the Eagle Creek basin be refined; 
-how do pumping rates affect streamflow; and
-is water that is lost from North Fork Eagle Creek upstream of the North Fork wells actually pumped out of the North Fork wells.

 

OBJECTIVES AND SCOPE

The overall objective of this project is to determine the relation between ground-water withdrawals from the North Fork wells and streamflow in the North Fork of Eagle Creek. Specific objectives include:

  1. Compile, review, and summarize existing data.
  2. Install and operate the surface- and ground-water monitoring equipment to facilitate study of the interaction of ground and surface water with the North Fork wells.
  3. Refine current estimates of basin yield and ground-water recharge to the Eagle Creek basin.
  4. Determine if surface water infiltrating into the streambed of Eagle Creek just upstream of and adjacent to the North Fork wells contributes to water that is pumped out of the North Fork wells.
  5. Estimate the effect of North Fork well pumping on streamflow in North Fork Eagle Creek.

The scope of this project includes the area of the Eagle Creek basin upstream of the existing USGS Eagle Creek gage (number 08387600). In addition to data collected during this project, existing data for the area will be compiled and utilized in this study.

 

RELEVANCE AND BENEFITS

The Village of Ruidoso will benefit from an improved understanding of the relation between ground- and surface-water resources in the Eagle Creek Basin. The proposed study will provide the Forest Service with hydrologic data and interpretations that can be incorporated into the EIS. Citizens and municipal, county, and state water managers will benefit from this improved understanding of the hydrologic system in the Eagle Creek basin and a greater security of their water supply. This study will benefit the nation and contribute to the USGS Water Census Strategic Science Directionin providing information about the status of freshwater resources in the Eagle Creek Basin. The study also will contribute to the USGS mission by providing standardized, quality-assured data to national databases. The data may be used to advance the understanding of the complex relation between such variables as precipitation, evapotranspiration, basin recharge, ground-water flow in fractured rock, surface and ground water hydraulic interaction, and surface- and ground-water chemistry. The results of this study also will be applicable to other mountainous regions where demands on water resources are increasing.

 

APPROACH

The proposed approach to each of the objectives and tasks needed to fulfill each objective are discussed in the following paragraphs.

 

1. Compile, review, and summarize existing data, and inventory hydrologic resources.

Data that will be compiled, reviewed, and summarized includes streamflow at the existing Eagle Creek gage, precipitation at existing National Weather Service (NWS) and NWS cooperative precipitation gages and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) SNOTEL sites, ground-water-level data from the North Fork wells and other nearby wells, and water-quality data from the North Fork wells, Eagle Creek, and precipitation. The data will be examined for trends over time and for relationships between streamflow, precipitation, and ground-water levels. Springs occurring along North Fork Eagle Creek, in Carlton Canyon, Johnson Canyon, and Telephone Canyon will be inventoried and identified for further work including measurement of flow and sampling.

 

2. Install and operate the surface- and ground-water monitoring equipment to facilitate study of the interaction of ground and surface water with the North Fork wells.

Two streamflow-gaging stations will be installed and the existing Eagle Creek streamflow-gaging station will be upgraded. A real-time streamflow-gaging station (North Fork gage) will be installed on North Fork Eagle Creek upstream of the North Fork well field. The North Fork gage will be used for real-time monitoring of the amount of surface water flowing in North Fork Eagle Creek that reaches the vicinity of the North Fork wells. This gage also will be used to help constrain estimates of watershed yield in the Eagle Creek basin.

The second streamflow gaging station (South Fork gage) will be located on South Fork Eagle Creek upstream of the confluence of the North and South Forks. This gaging station will be equipped with a Parshall flume (9-inch throat) with a small stilling well attached to the side of the flume. The stilling well will be equipped with a shaft encoder and float to measure the height (stage) of water in the flume. The top of the stilling well will be high enough to be above water during most stream flows. Although manufactured flumes have well-defined rating curves used to compute streamflow from the measured stage, the USGS will conduct independent streamflow measurements to verify that the computed streamflow is accurate. Data from the shaft encoder will be recorded by the datalogger at the existing streamflow gaging station (Eagle Creek gage) located just below the confluence of the North and South Forks. The 9-inch throat flume at the South Fork gage has the capacity to contain streamflows of up to about 6 ft3/s. High streamflows that overtop the flume will be directly measured with a wading rod if a USGS hydrographer is present during the high flow or will be estimated using indirect discharge techniques after the high water has passed.

The existing streamflow-gaging station (Eagle Creek gage), located on the south bank of Eagle Creek below the confluence of the North and South Forks, will be upgraded to have real-time data-transmission capabilities. The Eagle Creek gage, currently utilizing a stilling well and float to measure stream stage, may be moved to optimize satellite radio transmissions. If the gaging station is moved it will be equipped with a nitrogen or pressurized air system and a non-submersible pressure transducer to replace the currently-used stilling well and float.

Both the Eagle Creek gage and the North Fork gage will be equipped with a combination weir (rectangular weir with a v-notch) to serve as a streamflow control and to improve measurement of the lower end of streamflow at these gages.

Data from the real-time gages will be transmitted via satellite and land lines to the USGS office in Albuquerque where the data will be loaded into the NWIS data base. These data will be available to cooperators and the public by internet access.

Monitoring wells will be installed at five locations in and near the North Fork well field. The deepest of these wells will be drilled to a depth similar to that of the North Fork wells (about 800 ft). Three monitoring wells will be installed upstream of the North Fork well field. At this location, one shallow well will be drilled to the base of and completed in the North Fork Eagle Creek alluvium (12 to 40 feet below land surface) and two deeper wells will be completed in one borehole (multiple completion) in the underlying igneous bedrock: one well will be completed at a depth of about 400 feet below land surface and one well will be completed at a depth of about 800 feet below land surface.

Two deep monitoring wells also will be installed as a multiple completion at the mouth of Carlton Canyon near North Fork well 4. Both of these wells will be completed in the igneous bedrock at depths of about 400 and 800 feet below land surface. These wells will be useful in monitoring the ground-water levels in the Carlton Canyon fracture system.

Three shallow monitoring wells will be installed at three locations in the North Fork well field: one well will be installed between North Fork wells 1 and 3, one well will be installed between North Fork well 3 and 4, and one well will be installed downstream of North Fork well 4 and upstream of where bedrock outcrops in the streambed. These three wells will be drilled to the base of and completed in North Fork Eagle Creek alluvium (12 to 40 feet below land surface).

Each monitoring well and North Fork well 2 will be equipped with electronic water-level monitoring equipment, consisting of a submersible transducer, thermistor, and data logger. The data loggers will be set to collect and store ground-water level data once per hour. Data will be downloaded on a monthly basis. Manual check measurements will be obtained each time data is downloaded. Hourly data and check measurements will be stored in the USGS NWIS data base.

 

3. Refine current estimates of basin yield and ground-water recharge to the Eagle Creek basin.

For the entire Eagle Creek basin, basin yield (the sum of surface-water and ground-water outflow from the basin) from the Eagle Creek basin will be estimated using streamflow and precipitation data and estimates of ground-water outflow and evapotranspiration. Ground-water outflow from the basin will be estimated on the basis of existing potentiometric-surface maps, aquifer properties from previously-done pumping tests, and assumptions as to the geometry of the aquifers at ground-water outflow points.

Basin yield for the North and South Fork basins will be estimated using a combination of precipitation-elevation regression equations and evapotranspiration-estimation methods. Precipitation-elevation regression equations for the United States have been developed by Daly and others (1994, 1997) (the PRISM model). Additional relations could be developed between precipitation and elevation using streamflow and precipitation data from stations at various elevations in the Sacramento Mountain area. Evapotranspiration-estimation methods include those developed by Troendle and Leaf (1980), MacDonald and Stednick (2003), and Hargreaves and Samani (1982).

Recharge for the Eagle Creek Basin and sub-basins will be estimated on the basis of baseflow in the creek at the Eagle Creek and North Fork gages and methods described by Manning and Solomon (2003). Baseflow can be derived from streamflow hydrographs using the USGS hydrograph-separation computer program HYSEP (Sloto and Crouse, 1996). Recharge can be estimated using ratios of chloride concentrations found in bulk precipitation and stream-water samples obtained during baseflow conditions. The chloride-ratio method also can be used to estimate ground-water recharge using ratios of chloride concentrations found in bulk precipitation and ground water. The chloride method is subject to error if non-atmospheric sources of chloride (such as chloride-rich rock or septic effluent) are present in significant amounts.

 

4. Determine if surface water infiltrating into the streambed of Eagle Creek just upstream of and adjacent to the North Fork wells contributes to water that is pumped by the North Fork wells.

A determination as to the presence of surface-water from Eagle Creek in water pumped from the North Fork wells will be done using Microscopic Particulate Analysis (MPA), chemical mixing calculations, and age dating. MPA is utilized to identify particulate matter in water that can be characteristic of surface water. Such particulate matter includes plant debris, algae, diatoms, insects, insect larvae, rotifers, and coccidia. MPA will be performed on water from North Fork well 4 and on water from North Fork Eagle Creek. One set of MPA samples will be collected during the summer monsoon season.

Chemical mixing calculations will be used to quantify the amounts of ground- and surface-water produced from North Fork wells. Assuming that water in North Fork Eagle Creek and ground water have different and characteristic concentrations of a conservative ion, such as chloride, the concentration of the ion in water from North Fork wells would result from the mixing of ground- and surface-waters with their characteristic ion concentrations. The fraction of surface water (Fs) would be determined using the following equation:

Fs=(Cw-Cg)/(Cs-Cg)                                                                          (1)
where,
Cw is the concentration of the ion in well water,
Cg is the concentration of the ion in ground water (represented by spring water), and 
Cs is the concentration of the ion in surface water.

Age-dating of ground water and water from springs using Carbon 14, tritium, helium, and CFCs will help constrain the age of ground-water that is being extracted by the North Fork wells.

 

5. Estimate the effect of North Fork well pumping on streamflow in North Fork Eagle Creek.

Results of seepage studies conducted on North Fork Eagle Creek between the new North Fork gage and the existing Eagle Creek gage will be used to estimate streamflow loss from North Fork Eagle Creek near the well field. Seepage studies will be conducted twice: once during the spring runoff season and once during the summer monsoon season. Seepage studies will not be conducted when large variations in daily streamflow are occurring, such as during storms. In addition, to the extent possible pumping from the North Fork wells will be held constant during the seepage studies. Surface-water contributions from side canyons, streams, and springs will be measured and accounted for during the seepage studies. If the reach of North Fork Eagle Creek adjacent to the well field is dry, a seepage study could be conducted by pumping water from North Fork well 1 into the creek. Data from previously-conducted seepage studies also will be analyzed to incorporate a wider range of streamflow and pumping conditions into the analysis.

 

Monitoring-Well Drilling, Logging, Construction, and Development

Shallow and deep wells will be drilled using different drilling methods. Because of the loose nature of the alluvial material the shallow wells will be drilled using mud rotary or ODEX casing advancement. The mud or casing will help prevent the alluvial borehole from collapsing. Deep wells will be drilled with mud rotary or ODEX through the alluvium, then, after casing is set to bedrock, will be drilled with air rotary.

Cuttings from the well boreholes will be collected every 10 feet and at changes in lithology. The cuttings will be described and used to create a lithologic log of the deepest borehole at each location where monitoring wells are installed. After drilling to the target depth and prior to installation of casing, electric logs will be run in the deepest borehole at each monitoring well location. Logs to be run will include natural gamma, 16-inch, 64-inch, lateral, and fluid resistivity, SP, single-point resistance, and temperature. Monitoring wells will be constructed of 2 ½-inch diameter polyvinyl chloride (PVC) schedule 80, flush-joint, threaded casing. Wells screens for the deep (400 and 800 foot) bedrock wells will be 10-foot long stainless steel. Well screens for the shallow alluvial wells will be schedule 80 PVC and will extend from the bottom of the alluvium to within five feet of land surface. All wells will have a one to five-foot long blank casing sump below the screen. Sand pack will be placed in the borehole annulus from the base of the screen to about 1 foot above the screen. Bentonite grout or bentonite pellets will be placed on top of the sand pack to about 3 feet below land surface. Cement will then be placed on top of the bentonite to land surface and will form a well pad not less than two feet in diameter around the well. A protective lockable steel casing, embedded in the cement, will be installed around the well casing. Four cement-filled steel posts will be placed around the well to protect it from vehicular traffic and flood debris. The well installations will be painted with colors acceptable to the Forest Service.

A level survey will be run to determine the top of monitoring-well casing and land-surface elevation at each well. The level survey will include measurements of the top of casing and land surface elevations for the North Fork wells and the Eagle Creek, North Fork, and South Fork gages. Well coordinates will be determined using GPS receivers capable of receiving the real-time WAAS correction signal.

After well construction is complete the wells will be developed to remove drilling mud and other fine particulate matter from the screened intervals. Development will be done using a combination of swabbing, surging, and pumping.

 

 

SELECTED REFERENCES

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Anderholm, S.K., 2001, Mountain-front recharge along the eastern side of the middle Rio Grande Basin, central New Mexico: U.S. Geological Survey Water-Resources Investigations Report 00-4010, 36 p.

Balleau Groundwater, Inc., 2004a, Mountain-front hydrology of Eagle Creek and Rio Ruidoso tributaries of Rio Hondo: Balleau Groundwater, Inc., Albuquerque, New Mexico, Technical Memorandum, prepared for the Ford Secure Trust, November 3, 2004, 13 p., 2 tables, 17 figures, 5 appendices.

Balleau Groundwater, Inc., 2004b, Analysis of North Fork wellfield and effects on Eagle Creek:  Balleau Groundwater, Inc., Albuquerque, New Mexico, Technical Memorandum, prepared for the Ford Secure Trust, November 3, 2004, 12 p., 3 tables, 20 figures.

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Daly, C., Neilson, R.P., and Phillips, D.L., 1994, A statistical-topographic model for mapping climatological precipitation over mountainous terrain: Journal of Applied Meteorology, v. 33, p. 140-158. 

Daly, C., Taylor, G.H., and Gibson, W.P., 1997, The PRISM approach to mapping precipitation and temperature, in reprints: 10th Conference on Applied Climatology, Reno, Nev, American Meteorological Society, p. 10-12. 

Finch, Steven T., Peery, Roger L., and McCoy, Annie M., 2004, Water-resource evaluation of Eagle Creek watershed, Village of Ruidoso, New Mexico: John Shomaker & Associates, Inc., Albuquerque, New Mexico, 36 p., 23 figures, 4 appendices.

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MacDonald, L.H., and Stednick, J.D., 2003, Forests and water: A state-of-the-art review for Colorado:  Ft. Collins, Colorado Water Resources Research Institute CWRRI Completion Report No. 196, 65 p.

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Sueker, J.K., 1995, Chemical hydrograph separation during snowmelt for three headwater basins in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, in: Tonnesson, K.A., Williams, M.W., and Tranter, M., eds., Biogeochemistry of seasonally snow-covered catchments: International Association of Hydrological Sciences Publication No. 228: International Association of Hydrologic Sciences Press, Institute of Hydrology, Wallingford, Oxfordshire, United Kingdom, p. 271-281.

Troendle, C.A., and Leaf, C.F., 1980, Hydrology, in U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 1980, An approach to water resources evaluation of non-point silvicultural sources: EPA-600/8-80-012 Athens, Ga., Chapters III.1-III.173.

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