Investigation of Hydrogeology and Water Availability in the Osage Nation of Oklahoma

Science Center Objects

The purpose of this project is to evaluate the spatial distribution and volume of the fresh and brackish (saline) groundwater resources on the Reservation of the Osage Nation in Oklahoma. This investigation will evaluate the sources of water and water use in the Reservation, through activities such as historical water use, characterization of water wells, and predicting the potential effects of groundwater overdraft and contamination from upwelling of deeper saline water.

Drilling near Hominy Creek in the Osage Nation, OK

Drilling near Hominy Creek in the Osage Nation, OK.(Public domain.)

SUMMARY

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) frequently works with Native American Tribes in Oklahoma to conduct a variety of assessments related to available quantity and quality of water resources. This information is a critical part of Tribal Water Plans. The U.S. Geological Survey has recognized the importance of Native American Tribes knowledge and living in harmony with nature as complements to the USGS mission to better understand the Earth. Combining traditional ecological knowledge with empirical studies allows the USGS and Native American governments, organizations, and people to increase their mutual understanding and respect for this land. USGS provides information to tribes as part of our basic mission of providing unbiased scientific information to the Nation, and as part of the Federal Trust Responsibility to tribes.

This project aims to summarize existing hydrologic and related data, collect of new data, and develop computer simulations needed to characterize existing and potential future water supplies in the 2,304 square-mile Indian Reservation of the Osage Nation. The limited thickness of the fresh water aquifer in this area may limit future development of groundwater resources.  The fresh water aquifer is only 100 feet thick in many areas of the Osage Nation and is underlined by saline aquifers (D’Lugosz and others, 1986). Competing uses of this limited freshwater aquifer may substantially limit further sustainable pumpage of groundwater in this area.

There are some sites in the Vamoosa-Ada where fresh water wells have become more salinized with time from deeper saline aquifers (Abbott, 1998; D’Lugosz and other, 1986; Morton, 1986).  The thickness of the freshwater aquifer in the Reservation is only 100 feet in many places (D’Lugosz and other, 1986).  Continued demand for fresh groundwater resources may severely deplete these resources in parts of many areas of Osage Nation in the future and is causing conflict between surface estate and mineral estate water uses.  The Osage Nation’s ability to drill and produce the saline water from deeper formations, underneath the Vamoosa-Ada aquifer would lower saline water levels and help to minimize upwards migration into the overlying freshwater aquifer.

OBJECTIVES AND SCOPE

The purpose of this project is to evaluate the spatial distribution and volume of the fresh and brackish (saline) groundwater resources on the Reservation of the Osage Nation in Oklahoma. This investigation will evaluate the sources of water and water use in the Reservation, through activities such as historical water use, characterization of water wells, and predicting the potential effects of groundwater overdraft and contamination from upwelling of deeper saline water.

RELEVANCE AND BENEFITS

Assessment of water types (fresh and saline) will provide the Osage Nation with a comprehensive description of the spatial distribution and volumes of these two resources. This information will allow the Osage Nation to quantify connections between supply and demand components of all types of water use, and plan for the potential availability of water resources under current and alternative climatic and cultural water-use scenarios. Of particular importance will be the creation on an integrated surface-water/groundwater model (3 dimensional numerical simulation model) to analyze changes in flow, storage, and recharge in different hydrologic regions of the Osage Nation with different climate and water-use scenarios. An integrated surface-water/groundwater water model will be used to estimate available volumes of fresh and saline water resources.

This investigation will benefit the Osage Nation by providing improved understanding of the sources of water in the Reservation, through activities such as characterization of water wells and predicting the potential effects of groundwater overdraft and contamination from upwelling of deeper saline water. This project will help the Osage Nation with development of an integrated water resources plan for social and economic development that honors environmental protection and sustainability of tribal lands and resources.

Quantifying the extent and volume of saline water would serve two compelling purposes for the Osage Nation.

Airborne EM survey over Osage Nation

Airborne EM survey over Osage Nation(Public domain.)

Benefit 1.The ability to quantify the extent and volume of saline water under the Reservation would define the amount and concentration ranges of saline water available in the Reservation.  This assessment would enable the Osage Nation to proactively manage a new resource which they could utilize and sell to the oil and gas industries.  This resource may be of large economic and environmental value to the Osage Nation. 

Benefit 2.The interface between freshwater and marginally saline water is less than 300 feet in many areas of the Reservation, making saline water wells an economically viable alternative to supply much of the water needs of the oil and gas industry.   The ability to protect and save freshwater for drinking and stock water, while producing saline water for economic devolvement, makes such a project doubly beneficial.  Producing saline water could grow economic development for the Osage Nation while protecting natural resources making it a truly “water wise” and sustainable project.

In addition to previously mentioned benefits to the Osage Nation, this project will quantify the resources of limited aquifer, and develop the information and tools necessary to assess and manage water resources used for drinking-water supply, agricultural use, and oil and gas development. The Osage Nation is currently receiving approximately 70 permits a month to drill oil and gas wells.  The estimated water use per month in the Osage Nation for oil or gas wells is approximately 5.83 Million Barrels (751 acre-feet). The Osage Nation could potentially see a water demand from industrial use of approximately 70 Million Barrels (9,024 acre-feet) per year. This project would give the Osage Nation and industries operating there a more detailed map of water type and favorable drilling areas across the Reservation for many years to come.   This increase knowledge of assessing and quantifying water resource availability would be a critical need for planning and economic development within the Osage Nation.

This project is being conducted by a multidisciplinary team of experts from the USGS Oklahoma Water Science Center (OKWSC), the California Water Science Center (CAWSC), Nebraska Water Science Center (NEWSC), the Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center (GECSC), and the Crustal Geophysics and Geochemistry Science Center (CGGSC) in cooperation with the Osage Nation.