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Geologic framework of the regional ground-water flow system in the Upper Deschutes Basin, Oregon

January 1, 2002

Ground water is increasingly relied upon to satisfy the needs of a growing population in the upper Deschutes Basin, Oregon. Hydrogeologic studies are being undertaken to aid in management of the ground-water resource. An understanding of the geologic factors influencing ground-water flow is basic to those investigations. The geology of the area has a direct effect on the occurrence and movement of ground water. The permeability and storage properties of rock material are influenced by the proportion, size, and degree of interconnection of open spaces the rocks contain. These properties are the result of primary geologic processes such as volcanism and sedimentation, as well as subsequent processes such as faulting, weathering, or hydrothermal alteration. The geologic landscape in the study area evolved during about 30 million years of volcanic activity related to a north-south trending volcanic arc, the current manifestation of which are today’s Cascade Range volcanoes.

The oldest rock unit in the upper Deschutes Basin study area, the John Day Formation, is a sequence of upper Eocene to lower Miocene volcanic and sedimentary rocks. Weathering and alteration of the rocks has resulted in very low permeability; consequently, the unit forms the hydrologic basement for the regional ground- water flow system throughout much of the area. The Deschutes Formation and age-equivalent deposits that overlie the John Day Formation, in contrast, are highly permeable and are the most widely used ground-water-bearing units in the study area. The Deschutes Formation consists of a variety of volcanic and sedimentary deposits ranging in age from late Miocene to Pliocene (approximately 7.5 to 4.0 million years). Three distinct depositional environments previously described for the formation provide useful hydrogeologic subdivisions. The ancestral Deschutes River deposits and some units within the arc- adjacent alluvial-plain region are among the highest yielding units within the Deschutes Formation, with some wells producing up to a few thousand gallons per minute. Opal Springs basalt, Pelton basalt, and the rhyodacite dome complex near Steelhead Falls are particularly productive subunits within the Deschutes Formation and provide tens to hundreds of cubic feet per second of ground-water discharge to the Deschutes and Crooked Rivers, upstream of Round Butte Dam.

Most ground-water recharge in the upper Deschutes Basin occurs in Quaternary deposits of the Cascade Range and Newberry Volcano. These deposits are highly permeable, and the fractured character of the lava flows facilitates rapid infiltration of precipitation and snowmelt, as well as movement of ground water to lower elevations. Additional recharge from canal leakage occurs along sections of unlined canals near Bend, constructed on lava flows from Newberry Volcano. Hydrothermal alteration and secondary mineralization at depth beneath the Cascade Range and Newberry Volcano has drastically reduced the permeability of the material in those regions, effectively restricting most ground water to the strata above the altered rocks. The top of the hydrothermally altered region is considered the base of the regional ground-water system beneath the Cascade Range and Newberry Volcano.

Structural features influence ground-water flow within the upper Deschutes Basin mainly by juxtaposing materials with contrasting permeability. This juxtaposition can be caused by fault movement or by the influence of a fault on subsequent deposition. Several depositional centers have formed along the base of fault-line scarps or in grabens within the study area, and the infilling sedimentary deposits have permeability that differs from the surrounding rocks. The effects of faults on ground-water flow may be masked in some areas. For example, the water-table gradient changes slope in the vicinity of the Sisters fault zone, but the slope change also corresponds with a major precipitation gradient change; therefore, any influence of the fault zone is unclear.

Geologic units in the Deschutes Basin were divided into several distinct hydrogeologic units. In some instances the units correspond to existing stratigraphic divisions. In other instances, hydrogeologic units correspond to different facies within a single stratigraphic unit or formation. The hydrogeologic units include Quaternary sediment, deposits of the Cascade Range and Newberry Volcano, four zones within the Deschutes Formation and age-equivalent rocks that roughly correspond with depositional environments, and pre-Deschutes-age strata.

Publication Year 2002
Title Geologic framework of the regional ground-water flow system in the Upper Deschutes Basin, Oregon
DOI 10.3133/wri024015
Authors Kenneth E. Lite, Marshall W. Gannett
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Water-Resources Investigations Report
Series Number 2002-4015
Index ID wri024015
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Oregon Water Science Center