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Groundwater and surface-water interaction and potential for underground water storage in the Buena Vista-Salida Basin, Chaffee County, Colorado, 2011

September 25, 2014

By 2030, the population of the Arkansas Headwaters Region, which includes all of Chaffee and Lake Counties and parts of Custer, Fremont, and Park Counties, Colorado, is forecast to increase about 73 percent. As the region’s population increases, it is anticipated that groundwater will be used to meet much of the increased demand. In September 2009, the U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District and with support from the Colorado Water Conservation Board; Chaffee, Custer, and Fremont Counties; Buena Vista, Cañon City, Poncha Springs, and Salida; and Round Mountain Water and Sanitation District, began a 3-year study of groundwater and surface-water conditions in the Buena Vista-Salida Basin. This report presents results from the study of the Buena Vista-Salida Basin including synoptic gain-loss measurements and water budgets of Cottonwood, Chalk, and Browns Creeks, changes in groundwater storage, estimates of specific yield, transmissivity and hydraulic conductivity from aquifer tests and slug tests, an evaluation of areas with potential for underground water storage, and estimates of stream-accretion response-time factors for hypothetical recharge and selected streams in the basin.

The four synoptic measurements of flow of Cottonwood, Chalk, and Browns Creeks, suggest quantifiable groundwater gains and losses in selected segments in all three perennial streams. The synoptic measurements of flow of Cottonwood and Browns Creeks suggest a seasonal variability, where positive later-irrigation season values in these creeks suggest groundwater discharge, possibly as infiltrated irrigation water. The overall sum of gains and losses on Chalk Creek does not indicate a seasonal variability but indicates a gaining stream in April and August/September. Gains and losses in the measured upper segments of Chalk Creek likely are affected by the Chalk Cliffs Rearing Unit (fish hatchery).

Monthly water budgets were estimated for selected segments of five perennial streams (Cottonwood, North Cottonwood, Chalk, and Browns Creeks, and South Arkansas River) in the Buena Vista-Salida Basin for calendar year 2011. Differences between reported diversions and estimated crop irrigation requirements were used to estimate groundwater recharge in the areas irrigated by water supplied from the diversions. The amount of groundwater recharge in all the basins varied monthly; however, the greatest amount of recharge was during June and July for Cottonwood, North Cottonwood, and Chalk Creeks and South Arkansas River. The greatest amount of recharge in 2011 in Browns Creek occurred in July and August. The large seasonal fluctuations of groundwater near irrigated areas in the Buena Vista-Salida Basin indicate that the increased groundwater storage resulting from infiltration of surface-water diversions has dissipated by the following spring.

Areas within the Buena Vista-Salida Basin with the potential for underground storage were identified using geographic information system data, including topographic, geologic, and hydrologic data, excluding the mountainous areas that border the Buena Vista-Salida Basin and igneous and metamorphic rock outcrop areas. The areas that met the selection criteria for underground water storage are located on terrace deposits near the Arkansas River and adjacent to its major tributaries. The selected areas also contain much of the irrigated land within the basin; consequently, irrigation ditches and canals could provide a means of conveying water to potential recharge sites.