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Cimarron River alluvial aquifer hydrogeologic framework, water budget, and implications for future water availability in the Pawnee Nation Tribal jurisdictional area, Payne County, Oklahoma, 2016–18

October 5, 2021

The Cimarron River is a free-flowing river and is a major source of water as it flows across Oklahoma. Increased demand for water resources within the Cimarron River alluvial aquifer in north-central Oklahoma (primarily in Payne County) has led to increases in groundwater withdrawals for agriculture, public, irrigation, industrial, and domestic supply purposes. The Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma (Pawnee Nation) is particularly concerned about the sustainability of the Cimarron River alluvial aquifer and whether the aquifer will continue to be a viable water resource for future generations of Tribal members and residents. To better understand current (2021) water resources and possible future water availability in the Pawnee Nation Tribal jurisdictional area, the U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma, compiled available hydrogeologic data and developed conceptual and numerical groundwater-flow models for the Cimarron River alluvial aquifer in Payne County, north-central Oklahoma, including a focus area in the Pawnee Nation Tribal jurisdictional area for the 2016–18 study period.

A conceptual water budget was created to establish estimates of groundwater fluxes into and out of the aquifer through hydrologic boundaries and groundwater withdrawals for use in the numerical groundwater-flow model. The conceptual water budget focuses on the alluvial aquifer, meaning that inflows include sources of water to the aquifer and that outflows include sources of water out of the aquifer, such as base-flow contributions to the Cimarron River. The conceptual water budget was constructed by using data from 2017 (the most complete year of record for each data type included in the model) for the Pawnee Nation subdomain of the Cimarron River alluvial aquifer model extent (Pawnee Nation subdomain).

Groundwater withdrawals were estimated from groundwater-withdrawal rate information for permanent and temporary permitted wells that was obtained from the Oklahoma Water Resources Board. One-half of each annual permitted groundwater-withdrawal rate allotted was used as the estimated annual groundwater-withdrawal amount. Halving the permitted groundwater-withdrawal rate was done because permitted withdrawal rates are the maximum permitted rate and actual groundwater withdrawals are generally appreciably lower than the maximum permitted rate. Total groundwater withdrawals were estimated as 1,300 acre-feet per year for the Pawnee Nation subdomain. Various hydrogeologic data were measured to assist with model development, including depth to bedrock and water-table altitude data. In support of the model development, analyses pertaining to groundwater flow, groundwater/surface-water interactions, base flows in the Cimarron River, and lithological interpretations in the Pawnee Nation Tribal jurisdictional area were used to compute a conceptual water budget applicable to the 2016–18 study period. A numerical groundwater-flow model was developed using the hydrogeologic framework of the Cimarron River alluvial aquifer and the conceptual water budget. The numerical model consists of a single layer representing alluvium and terrace deposits within the alluvial aquifer model area. Hydraulic conductivities were estimated and modeled for the alluvium and terrace deposits in the alluvial aquifer. Base-flow values were estimated using the base-flow index from streamflow data collected at U.S. Geological Survey streamgages. Stream seepage values were derived from the mean 2017 base-flow index between certain streamgages. Hydraulic conductivities were specified an initial (before calibration) value of 120 feet per day for the alluvium deposits and 16 feet per day for the terrace deposits.

The simulated inflows in the numerical groundwater-flow model of the Pawnee Nation subdomain were higher than the inflows of conceptual water budget, and the simulated outflows were lower than the outflows of the conceptual water budget. Overall, simulated base flows matched closely to observed base flows for the 2016 and 2017 stress periods. Simulated streamflow tended to match better with the observed streamflow for 2017, which was the period with the most data for the Cimarron River alluvial aquifer model.

Streamflow capture analysis was applied to the steady-state simulation to identify areas of the aquifer where base flows in the Cimarron River were most sensitive to groundwater withdrawals. The initial base-flow value was assigned the value obtained from streamflow-routing software used to simulate stream outflow for the calibrated steady-state base model. Subsequent simulations were run in each active cell in the Pawnee Nation subdomain for a specified groundwater-withdrawal rate of 180,000 cubic feet per day. The study area that includes the Pawnee Nation subdomain is in the upper Arkansas River Basin. A groundwater-withdrawal rate of 180,000 cubic feet per second per day represents a 34 percent increase compared to the highest permitted groundwater-withdrawal rate for the study area, which corresponds to the estimated 34 percent increase in groundwater withdrawals predicted by 2060 for the upper Arkansas River Basin. Simulated streamflow capture was highest in the alluvium deposits adjacent to the Cimarron River; that is, base flow in the Cimarron River decreased the most for simulated groundwater withdrawals in the alluvium deposits adjacent to the Cimarron River. Streamflow capture increased as the distance of a well from the Cimarron River decreased in the simulation. The northeastern part of the Pawnee Nation subdomain showed greater streamflow capture in a broader area; streamflow in that part of the Pawnee Nation subdomain is likely more sensitive to groundwater withdrawals compared to other parts of the Pawnee Nation subdomain.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2021
Title Cimarron River alluvial aquifer hydrogeologic framework, water budget, and implications for future water availability in the Pawnee Nation Tribal jurisdictional area, Payne County, Oklahoma, 2016–18
DOI 10.3133/sir20215073
Authors Nicole Paizis, Adam R. Trevisan
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2021-5073
Index ID sir20215073
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Oklahoma-Texas Water Science Center