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Hydrogeologic framework and groundwater/surface-water interactions of the upper Yakima River Basin, Kittitas County, central Washington

July 17, 2014

The hydrogeology, hydrology, and geochemistry of groundwater and surface water in the upper (western) 860 square miles of the Yakima River Basin in Kittitas County, Washington, were studied to evaluate the groundwater-flow system, occurrence and availability of groundwater, and the extent of groundwater/surface-water interactions. The study area ranged in altitude from 7,960 feet in its headwaters in the Cascade Range to 1,730 feet at the confluence of the Yakima River with Swauk Creek. A west-to-east precipitation gradient exists in the basin with the western, high-altitude headwaters of the basin receiving more than 100 inches of precipitation per year and the eastern, low-altitude part of the basin receiving about 20 inches of precipitation per year. From the early 20th century onward, reservoirs in the upper part of the basin (for example, Keechelus, Kachess, and Cle Elum Lakes) have been managed to store snowmelt for irrigation in the greater Yakima River Basin. Canals transport water from these reservoirs for irrigation in the study area; additional water use is met through groundwater withdrawals from wells and surface-water withdrawals from streams and rivers. Estimated groundwater use for domestic, commercial, and irrigation purposes is reported for the study area.

A complex assemblage of sedimentary, metamorphic, and igneous bedrock underlies the study area. In a structural basin in the southeastern part of the study area, the bedrock is overlain by unconsolidated sediments of glacial and alluvial origin. Rocks and sediments were grouped into six hydrogeologic units based on their lithologic and hydraulic characteristics. A map of their extent was developed from previous geologic mapping and lithostratigraphic information from drillers’ logs. Water flows through interstitial space in unconsolidated sediments, but largely flows through fractures and other sources of secondary porosity in bedrock. Generalized groundwater-flow directions within the unconfined part of the aquifers in unconsolidated sediments indicate generalized groundwater movement toward the Yakima River and its tributaries and the outlet of the study area.

Groundwater movement through fractures within the bedrock aquifers is complex and varies over spatial scales depending on the architecture of the fracture-flow system and its hydraulic properties. The complexity of the fracturedbedrock groundwater-flow system is supported by a wide range of groundwater ages determined from geochemical analyses of carbon-14, sulfur hexafluoride, and tritium in groundwater. These geochemical data also indicate that the shallow groundwater system is actively flushing with young, isotopically heavy groundwater, but isotopicallylight, Pleistocene-age groundwater with a geochemicallyevolved composition occurs at depth within the fracturedbedrock aquifers of upper Kittitas County. An eastward depletion of stable isotopes in groundwater is consistent with hydrologically separate subbasins. This suggests that groundwater that recharges in one subbasin is not generally available for withdrawal or discharge into surface-water features within other subbasins. Water budget components were calculated for 11 subbasins using a watershed model and varied based on the climate, land uses, and geology of the subbasin.

Synoptic streamflow measurements made in August 2011 indicate that groundwater discharges into several tributaries of the Yakima River with several losses of streamflow measured where the streams exit bedrock uplands and flow over unconsolidated sediments. Profiles of stream temperature during late summer suggest cool groundwater inflow over discrete sections of streams. This groundwater/surfacewater connection is further supported by the stable-isotope composition of stream water, which reflects the local stableisotope composition of groundwater measured at some wells and springs.

Collectively, these hydrogeologic, hydrologic, and geochemical data support a framework for evaluating the potential effects of future groundwater appropriations on senior surface-water and groundwater rights and streamflows. Although total pumping rates in upper Kittitas County of about 3.5 cubic feet per second are small relative to other components of the water budget, the magnitude, timing, and location of withdrawals may have important effects on the hydrologic system. The heterogeneous and variably fractured bedrock in the study area precluded a detailed evaluation of localized effects of pumping, but several generalizations about the groundwater and surface-water systems can be made. These generalizations include evidence for the continuity between the groundwater and surface-water system apparent from synoptic streamflow measurements, stream-temperature profiles, and stable-isotope data of groundwater and surface waters.

Publication Year 2014
Title Hydrogeologic framework and groundwater/surface-water interactions of the upper Yakima River Basin, Kittitas County, central Washington
DOI 10.3133/sir20145119
Authors Andrew S. Gendaszek, D. Matthew Ely, Stephen R. Hinkle, Sue C. Kahle, Wendy B. Welch
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2014-5119
Index ID sir20145119
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Washington Water Science Center