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Assessment of water availability in the Osage Nation using an integrated hydrologic-flow model

March 15, 2021

The Osage Nation of northeastern Oklahoma, conterminous with Osage County, covers about 2,900 square miles. The area is primarily rural with 62 percent of the land being native prairie grass, and much of the area is used for cattle ranching and extraction of petroleum and natural gas. Protection of water rights are important to the Osage Nation because of its reliance on cattle ranching and the potential for impairment of water quality by petroleum extraction. Additionally, the potential for future population increases, demands for water from neighboring areas such as the Tulsa metropolitan area, and expansion of petroleum and natural-gas extraction on water resources of this area further the need for the Osage Nation to better understand its water availability. Therefore, the U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Osage Nation, completed a hydrologic investigation to assess the status and availability of surface-water and groundwater resources in the Osage Nation.

A transient integrated hydrologic-flow model was constructed using the U.S. Geological Survey fully integrated hydrologic-flow model called the MODFLOW One-Water Hydrologic Model. The integrated hydrologic-flow model, called the Osage Nation Integrated Hydrologic Model (ONIHM), was constructed and uses an orthogonal grid of 276 rows and 289 columns, and each grid cell measures 1,312.34 feet (ft; 400 meters) per side, with eight variably thick vertical layers that represented the alluvial and bedrock aquifers within the study area, including the alluvial aquifer, the Vamoosa-Ada aquifer, and the minor Pennsylvanian bedrock aquifers, and the confining units. Landscape and groundwater-flow processes were simulated for two periods: (1) the 1950–2014 period from January 1950 through September 2014 and (2) the forecast period from October 2014 through December 2099. The 1950–2014 period ONIHM simulated past conditions using measured or estimated inputs, and the forecast-period ONIHM simulated three separate potential forecast conditions under constant dry, average, or wet climate conditions using calibrated input values from the 1950–2014 period ONIHM.

The 1950–2014 period ONIHM was calibrated by linking the Parameter Estimation software (PEST) with the MODFLOW One-Water Hydrologic Model. PEST uses statistical parameter estimation techniques to identify the best set of parameter values to minimize the difference between measured or estimated calibration targets and their simulated equivalent values (residuals). Tikhonov regularization and singular-value decomposition-assist features of PEST were used during the calibration process. The 1950–2014 period ONIHM was calibrated to 713 measured groundwater levels at 195 wells; 95,636 estimated monthly mean groundwater levels at 124 wells; 5,307 measured streamflows at 13 streamgages; and 8,679 simulated mean monthly streamflows at 10 streamgages extracted from a surface-water model by adjusting 231 parameters. The estimated groundwater-level observations and streamflows were included as observations to improve the spatial and temporal density of observation targets during calibration. The best set of parameter values obtained during the calibration process of the 1950–2014 model was then used as the input parameter values for the forecast model simulations. A comparison of the calibration targets to their corresponding simulated values indicated that the model adequately reproduced streamflows and groundwater levels for some streamgages and wells and underestimated streamflows and groundwater levels at other locations. Measured and simulated streamflows correlated adequately with a coefficient of determination of 0.938, as did water levels with a coefficient of determination of 0.795. The 1950–2014 period ONIHM underestimated certain groundwater levels and streamflows, but generally measured or estimated calibration targets correlated well with simulated equivalents, which indicated that the model can adequately simulate the response of the hydrologic system to stresses in the 1950–2014 and forecast periods.

In the 1950–2014 period ONIHM, the calibrated mean horizontal hydraulic conductivity for layer 1 alluvial aquifer was 30.7 feet per day, and the seven lower layers had a calibrated mean horizontal hydraulic conductivity of less than 3.3 feet per day. The mean calibrated groundwater-level residual was 16.6 ft, and the mean calibrated streamflow residual of the Arkansas River at Ralston, Oklahoma, streamgage (U.S. Geological Survey station 07152500) was within 6 percent (373 cubic feet per second) of mean measured streamflow for the 1950–2014 period ONIHM.

The ONIHM simulated landscape fluxes of precipitation; groundwater applied by irrigation wells; evapotranspiration from precipitation, groundwater, and irrigation; runoff from precipitation; and deep percolation from precipitation. The largest loss of water from the landscape was evapotranspiration from precipitation with a calibrated mean annual outflow of 32 inches (in.): mean annual precipitation was about 36 in. Calibrated mean annual runoff and deep percolation (recharge to the water table) rates were 4.7 inches per year (in/yr) and 0.70 in/yr, respectively, for the 1950–2014 period ONIHM.

The calibrated 1950–2014 period ONIHM groundwater fluxes included net farm net recharge (calculated as the difference between the inflow of recharge to the water table and the outflow of evapotranspiration from the water table such that negative values indicate that evapotranspiration from the water table was greater than deep percolation [recharge to the water table] and vice versa). Net farm net recharge was the largest flux from the groundwater system with a mean annual net outflow of 153.4 cubic feet per second. Stream leakage was the largest flux to the groundwater system with a mean annual net inflow of 152.5 cubic feet per second, indicating that, on average, the groundwater/surface-water interaction was a “losing” system where stream water leaked into the subsurface and recharged the water table. Simulated monthly trends demonstrated that net stream leakage was the largest inflow to the groundwater-flow system for 10 of the 12 months; for the other 2 months (January and March), farm net recharge (January) and net storage (March) were the largest inflow to the groundwater-flow system.

A saline groundwater interface map was created for the study and compared to the water levels from the final stress period of the 1950–2014 model to identify the presence of fresh/marginal groundwater throughout the study area. Fresh/marginal groundwater was characterized as groundwater with less than 1,500 milligrams per liter of total dissolved solids. Fresh/marginal groundwater thickness ranged from 0 to 438.2 ft within the study area. The thickest regions of fresh/marginal groundwater were in the eastern part of the study area near Sand Creek, Bird Creek, and Hominy Creek and in the Arkansas River alluvial aquifer in the region downstream from the Arkansas River at Ralston, Okla.

Like the 1950–2014 model, forecast model results for the landscape indicated that transpiration from precipitation was the largest flux out of the landscape for all three forecasts, constituting 77, 73, and 58 percent of precipitation for the dry, average, and wet forecasts, respectively. The dry and average forecast landscape fluxes demonstrated similar trends and magnitudes, whereas the wet forecast landscape fluxes indicated the largest changes compared to the average forecast fluxes. Most notably, runoff increased from a mean of 1.1 and 1.6 in/yr for the dry and average forecasts, respectively, to 10 in/yr for the wet forecast. Similar changes occurred for the other wet forecast landscape fluxes.

The calibrated 1950–2014 period ONIHM simulated three forecasts to assess the effects of potential climatic changes on the hydrologic system from October 2014 to December 2099. The three forecasts simulated theoretical dry, average, and wet conditions using precipitation and potential evapotranspiration datasets from selected years in the calibrated 1950–2014 period ONIHM. Annual precipitation amounts were 26.89, 35.47, and 50.73 in. for the dry, average, and wet forecasts, respectively. Groundwater-flow component forecast results indicated that stream leakage is always a net inflow to the groundwater-flow system for dry, average, and wet conditions, meaning the study area stream network is always predominantly a “losing” regime where stream water infiltrates into the underlying aquifer. Storage was only a net outflow from the groundwater-flow system and indicated a replenishment to groundwater storage that resulted in an increase in groundwater levels only during the wet forecast. Further, these gains in groundwater storage for the wet forecast occurred only during February through June.

Mean fresh/marginal groundwater saturated thicknesses were 125 and 126 ft for the dry and average forecast conditions, respectively, and wet forecast average thickness was 145 ft and ranged from 0 to 443 ft. The spatial extents of fresh/marginal groundwater at the end of the dry, average, and wet forecast model periods (December 2099) did not change substantially from the end of the 1950–2014 model period (September 2014).

Publication Year 2021
Title Assessment of water availability in the Osage Nation using an integrated hydrologic-flow model
DOI 10.3133/sir20205141
Authors Jonathan P. Traylor, Shana L. Mashburn, Randall T. Hanson, Steven M. Peterson
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2020-5141
Index ID sir20205141
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Nebraska Water Science Center