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Characterization of factors affecting groundwater levels in and near the former Lake Traverse Indian Reservation, South Dakota, water years 1956–2017

May 19, 2021

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), in cooperation with the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate, completed a study to characterize water-level fluctuations in observation wells relative to driving factors that affect water levels in and near the historical 1867 boundary of the Lake Traverse Indian Reservation. The study investigated concerns regarding potential effects of groundwater withdrawals and climate conditions on groundwater levels within an area that includes the historical boundary of the reservation and a surrounding area that extends 10 miles in all directions within South Dakota. Characterization of water-level fluctuations in observation wells and relative driving factors was accomplished by statistical trend analysis.

Monthly data from the Parameter-elevation Regressions on Independent Slopes Model (PRISM) were aggregated to obtain annual and seasonal datasets for total precipitation, minimum air temperature (Tmin), and maximum air temperature (Tmax) for the study area and a surrounding buffer area. Trend tests for gridded data for total precipitation, Tmin, and Tmax were completed for annual and seasonal time series for water years 1956–2017, which is about 2 years before the earliest available water-level measurements. A 2-year offset was arbitrarily selected because scrutiny of water-level and precipitation data indicated that responses of groundwater levels for many of the observation wells lagged major changes in precipitation patterns by about 2 years. Statistically significant upward trends were detected for annual precipitation and annual Tmin for most of the study area and the surrounding buffer area. Statistically significant downward trends in Tmax were detected for only a few 2.5 arc-minute grid cells; however, the sparsity of the spatial coverage reduces confidence that these are true trends, in contrast to the near completeness of the spatial coverage in upward trends for Tmin. Spatial distributions of statistically significant trends in seasonal climate data were generally similar to the annual trends, but with substantial differences in the spatial density of the trends.

Potential interactions among water levels in observation wells and streamflow were examined through correlation analyses of the annual median water level for each of 76 observation wells versus the annual mean streamflow for each of four area streamgages. Potential interactions among water levels in observation wells and lake levels were examined through correlation analyses involving 25 area lakes. Resulting correlation coefficients were used as part of an approach for selecting a lake to be plotted in conjunction with water-level and precipitation data for each observation well.

Groundwater trends for 76 observation wells were analyzed for three separate water-level parameters (minimum, median, and maximum) because wells are measured sporadically, and data are biased towards more frequent measurements during periods of heaviest irrigation demand. Trends in the time series of annual precipitation (from PRISM) starting 2 years earlier than the associated water-level trend also were analyzed for the location of each individual observation well. Sen’s slope and Mann-Kendall p-values were computed for the three water-level parameters and for the annual precipitation time series. Graphs showing results of trend analyses for each observation well also showed changes with time in the sum of licensed groundwater withdrawals within six specified radii (0.5, 1.0, 2.0, 3.0, 4.0, and 5.0 miles) of each well as a qualitative indicator of proximal groundwater demand.

Trends in groundwater levels in observation wells in the study area are predominantly upward, with 43 of 76 wells having significant upward trends for at least one of the three water-level parameters and only 8 wells having significant downward trends for at least one water-level parameter. The upward groundwater trends are driven by predominantly upward precipitation trends, with 43 wells (not all the same wells) also having significant upward trends and no wells having significant downward trends. Significant upward precipitation trends were detected for only two of the eight wells with significant downward groundwater trends. Groundwater levels in some observation wells likely are also substantially affected by interactions with surface water, especially with lakes. Water levels in many area lakes increased in response to wet conditions of the early 1990s and have maintained high water levels ever since. It is recognized that in many cases lakes that were selected for plotting with groundwater hydrographs likely are not hydraulically connected with a groundwater system or aquifer associated with an individual well; however, interactions also are plausible for numerous other lakes for which water-level records are not available.

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