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Hydrogeologic framework of the Wood River Valley aquifer system, south-central Idaho

April 9, 2012

The Wood River Valley contains most of the population of Blaine County and the cities of Sun Valley, Ketchum, Hailey, and Bellevue. This mountain valley is underlain by the alluvial Wood River Valley aquifer system, which consists primarily of a single unconfined aquifer that underlies the entire valley, an underlying confined aquifer that is present only in the southernmost valley, and the confining unit that separates them. The entire population of the area depends on groundwater for domestic supply, either from domestic or municipal-supply wells, and rapid population growth since the 1970s has caused concern about the long-term sustainability of the groundwater resource. As part of an ongoing U.S. Geological Survey effort to characterize the groundwater resources of the Wood River Valley, this report describes the hydrogeologic framework of the Wood River Valley aquifer system.

Although most of the Wood River Valley aquifer system is composed of Quaternary-age sediments and basalts of the Wood River Valley and its tributaries, older igneous, sedimentary, or metamorphic rocks that underlie these Quaternary deposits also are used for water supply. It is unclear to what extent these rocks are hydraulically connected to the main part of Wood River Valley aquifer system and thus whether they constitute separate aquifers. Paleozoic sedimentary rocks in and near the study area that produce water to wells and springs are the Phi Kappa and Trail Creek Formations (Ordovician and Silurian), the Milligen Formation (Devonian), and the Sun Valley Group including the Wood River Formation (Pennsylvanian-Permian) and the Dollarhide Formation (Permian). These sedimentary rocks are intruded by granitic rocks of the Late Cretaceous Idaho batholith. Eocene Challis Volcanic Group rocks overlie all of the older rocks (except where removed by erosion). Miocene Idavada Volcanics are found in the southern part of the study area. Most of these rocks have been folded, faulted, and metamorphosed to some degree, thus rock types and their relationships vary over distance.

Quaternary-age sediment and basalt compose the primary source of groundwater in the Wood River Valley aquifer system. These Quaternary deposits can be divided into three units: a coarse-grained sand and gravel unit, a fine-grained silt and clay unit, and a single basalt unit. The fine- and coarse-grained units were primarily deposited as alluvium derived from glaciation in the surrounding mountains and upper reaches of tributary canyons. The basalt unit is found in the southeastern Bellevue fan area and is composed of two flows of different ages. Most of the groundwater produced from the Wood River Valley aquifer system is from the coarse-grained deposits.

The altitude of the pre-Quaternary bedrock surface in the Wood River Valley was compiled from about 1,000 well-driller reports for boreholes drilled to bedrock and about 70 Horizontal-to-Vertical Spectral Ratio (HVSR) ambient-noise measurements. The bedrock surface generally mimics the land surface by decreasing down tributary canyons and the main valley from north to south; it ranges from more than 6,700 feet in Baker Creek to less than 4,600 feet in the central Bellevue fan. Most of the south-central portion of the Bellevue fan is underlain by an apparent topographically closed area on the bedrock surface that appears to drain to the southwest towards Stanton Crossing. Quaternary sediment thickness ranges from less than a foot on main and tributary valley margins to about 350 feet in the central Bellevue fan.

Hydraulic conductivity for 81 wells in the study area was estimated from well-performance tests reported on well-driller reports. Estimated hydraulic conductivity for 79 wells completed in alluvium ranges from 1,900 feet per day (ft/d) along Warm Springs Creek to less than 1 ft/d in upper Croy Canyon. A well completed in bedrock had an estimated hydraulic conductivity value of 10 ft/d, one well completed in basalt had a value of 50 ft/d, and three wells completed in the confined system had values ranging from 32 to 52 ft/d.

Subsurface outflow of groundwater from the Wood River Valley aquifer system into the eastern Snake River Plain aquifer was estimated to be 4,000 acre-feet per year. Groundwater outflow beneath Stanton Crossing to the Camas Prairie was estimated to be 300 acre-feet per year.

Publication Year 2012
Title Hydrogeologic framework of the Wood River Valley aquifer system, south-central Idaho
DOI 10.3133/sir20125053
Authors James R. Bartolino, Candice B. Adkins
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2012-5053
Index ID sir20125053
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Idaho Water Science Center