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Geologic features and ground-water storage capacity of the Sacramento Valley, California

January 1, 1961

The Sacramento Valley constitutes the northern and smaller arm of the Central Valley of California. It is about 150 miles long by about 30 miles wide; and its area is about 5,000 square miles. The Sacramento Valley is drained by the Sacramento River, the largest in California, which rises west of Mount Shasta and flows southward to join the San Joaquin River near Suisun Bay and discharges through San Francisco Bay to the Pacific. Most of the valley floor is suitable for growing crops, and under irrigation the land is highly productive.

The Sacramento Valley is underlain by sediments transported from the surrounding mountains by the Sacramento River and its tributaries. The floor of the valley slopes southward from about 300 feet above sea level at the north end near Red Bluff to sea level at Suisun Bay. The Sutter Buttes, which are erosional remnants of an old volcano rise to 2,132 feet above sea level near the center of the valley. The valley floor is not a featureless plain but is characterized by various types of topography, which have been assigned to four principal groups: 1, low hills and dissected alluvial uplands; 2, low alluvial plains and fans; 3, flood plains and natural levees; and 4, flood basins; a fifth and relatively minor group consists of the tidal Islands of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, which are south of the principal area of investigation. The rocks that underlie the Sacramento Valley and the bordering mountains range from crystalline rocks of Paleozoic and Mesozoic age to unconsolidated alluvium of Recent age. These rocks have been subdivided into 20 geologic units which may be assigned to 2 broad categories: rocks that yield little water and rocks that yield water freely. The rocks of the first category are chiefly marine sedimentary rocks of Late Jurassic, Cretaceous, and Early Tertiary age and a basement complex of pre-Tertiary crystalline rocks. The rocks of the second category consist predominantly of nonmarine valley-filling sediments of late Tertiary and Quaternary age, which constitute the principal ground-water reservoir in the Sacramento Valley.

The rocks that yield little or no water includes the following geologic units: 1, Basement complex of the Sierra Nevada (pre-Tertiary); 2, Shasta series (Lower Cretaceous); 3, Chico formation (Upper Cretaceous); 4, Paleocene series; 5, Eocene series (in part, water yielding); 6, basalt (Tertiary); 7, sedimentary rocks of volcanic origin on the west side of the Sacramento Valley (Tertiary, in part water yielding) ; 8, intrusive rhyolite and andesite and vent tuff of the Sutter Buttes (Pliocene); and 9, tuff-breccia of the Sutter Buttes (Pliocene, in part water yielding).

The rocks that yield water freely, comprises the following geologic units: 1, Volcanic rocks from the Sierra Nevada (Eocene to Pliocene; in part yield little or no water); 2, Tuscan formation (Pliocene; in part yield little or no water); 3, Tehama formation (Pliocene); 4, Tehama formation and related continental sediments, undifferentiated (Pliocene and Pleistocene); 5, Laguna formation and related continental sediments (Pliocene and Pleistocene); 6, fanglomerate from the Cascade Range (Pleistocene); 7, Red Bluff formation (Pleistocene); 8, Victor formation and related deposits (Pleistocene); 9, alluvial-fan deposits (Pleistocene and Recent); 10, river deposits (Recent); and 11, flood-basin deposits (Recent).

The volcanic rocks from the Sierra Nevada consist chiefly of andesitic and rhyolitic detritus. Most of these volcanic rocks are fragmental and were deposited either as mudflows or by streams. Their permeability is extremely variable, the poorly consolidated sandstone and conglomerate strata locally yield water copiously to wells, but the interbedded fine-grained and cemented strata are virtually impermeable and act as confining layers.

The Tuscan formation, which occurs in the northeastern part of the valley, consists of fragmental andesitic and basaltic mate

Publication Year 1961
Title Geologic features and ground-water storage capacity of the Sacramento Valley, California
DOI 10.3133/wsp1497
Authors F. H. Olmsted, G. H. Davis
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Water Supply Paper
Series Number 1497
Index ID wsp1497
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse