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Hydrogeology, numerical simulation of groundwater flow, and effects of future water use and drought for reach 1 of the Washita River alluvial aquifer, Roger Mills and Custer Counties, western Oklahoma, 1980–2015

December 30, 2020

The Washita River alluvial aquifer is a valley-fill and terrace alluvial aquifer along the valley of the Washita River in western Oklahoma that provides a productive source of groundwater for agricultural irrigation and water supply. The Oklahoma Water Resources Board (OWRB) has designated the westernmost section of the aquifer in Roger Mills and Custer Counties, Okla., as reach 1 of the Washita River alluvial aquifer; reach 1 is the focus of this report. The OWRB issued an order on November 13, 1990, that established the maximum annual yield (MAY; 120,320 acre-feet per year [acre-ft/yr]) and equal-proportionate-share (EPS) pumping rate (2.0 acre-feet per acre per year [(acre-ft/acre)/yr]) for reach 1 of the Washita River alluvial aquifer. The MAY and EPS were based on hydrologic investigations that evaluated the effects of potential groundwater withdrawals on groundwater availability in the Washita River alluvial aquifer. Every 20 years, the OWRB is statutorily required to update the hydrologic investigation on which the MAY and EPS were based. Because 30 years have elapsed since the last order was issued, the U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the OWRB, conducted a new hydrologic investigation and evaluated the effects of potential groundwater withdrawals on groundwater flow and availability in the Washita River alluvial aquifer.

The Washita River is the primary source of inflow to Foss Reservoir, a Bureau of Reclamation reservoir constructed in 1961 for flood control, water supply, and recreation. Foss Reservoir provides water for Bessie, Clinton, New Cordell, and Hobart, Okla. Nearly 98 percent of the total groundwater use from the Washita River alluvial aquifer during 1967 to 2015 was for irrigation; other uses of groundwater in the study area include public supply, mining, and agriculture.

A hydrogeologic framework was developed for the Washita River alluvial aquifer and included the physical characteristics of the aquifer, the geologic setting, the hydraulic properties of hydrogeologic units, the potentiometric surface (water table), and groundwater-flow directions at a scale that captures the regional controls on groundwater flow. The Washita River alluvial aquifer consists of alluvium and terrace deposits that were transported primarily by water and range from clay to gravel in size. The terrace includes windblown deposits of silt size and, in some cases, contains gravel laid down at several levels along former courses of present-day rivers.

A conceptual flow model is a simplified description of the aquifer system that includes hydrologic boundaries, major inflow and outflow sources of the groundwater-flow system, and a conceptual water budget with the estimated mean flows between those hydrologic boundaries. During the study period 1980–2015, mean annual groundwater withdrawals, predominantly used for agricultural irrigation, totaled 5,502 acre-ft/yr, or 14 percent of aquifer outflows. When applied across the 132-square-mile aquifer area used for modeling purposes (84,366 acres), mean annual recharge of 3.15 inches per year corresponds to a mean annual recharge volume of 22,169 acre-ft/yr, or 56 percent of aquifer inflows. The annual saturated-zone evapotranspiration outflow was 11,828 acre-ft/yr for the Washita River alluvial aquifer, or about 30 percent of aquifer outflows. For the Washita River alluvial aquifer, lateral flow was 17,157 acre-ft/yr, or 44 percent of the aquifer inflows. The conceptual flow model and hydrogeologic framework were used to conceptualize, design, and build the numerical groundwater-flow model.

A numerical groundwater-flow model of the Washita River alluvial aquifer was constructed by using MODFLOW-2005. The Washita River alluvial aquifer groundwater-model grid was spatially discretized into 350-foot (ft) cells and two layers. Layer 1 represented the undifferentiated alluvium and terrace deposits of Quaternary age, and layer 2 represented the bedrock of Permian age, which was given a uniform nominal thickness of 100 ft. The groundwater-simulation period was temporally discretized into 433 monthly transient stress periods, representing January 1980 to December 2015. An initial 365-day steady-state stress period was configured to represent mean annual inflows and outflows from the Washita River alluvial aquifer for the study period. The groundwater-flow model was calibrated manually and by automated adjustment of model inputs by using PEST++. Calibration targets for the Washita River alluvial aquifer model included groundwater-level observations and reservoir-stage observations, as well as base-flow and stream-seepage estimates.

Three groundwater-availability scenarios were used in the calibrated groundwater model to (1) estimate the EPS pumping rate that retains the saturated thickness that meets the minimum 20-year life of the aquifer, (2) quantify the effects of projected pumping rates on groundwater storage over a 50-year period, and (3) evaluate how projected pumping rates extended 50 years into the future and sustained hypothetical drought conditions over a 10-year period affect base flow and groundwater in storage. The results of the groundwater-availability scenarios could be used by the OWRB to reevaluate the established MAY of groundwater from the Washita River alluvial aquifer.

EPS scenarios for the Washita River alluvial aquifer were run for periods of 20, 40, and 50 years. The 20-, 40-, and 50-year EPS pumping rates under normal recharge conditions were 1.7, 1.6, and 1.6 (acre-ft/acre)/yr, respectively. Given the aquifer area used for modeling purposes (84,366 acres), these rates correspond to annual yields of 142,579, 134,986, and 134,986 acre-ft/yr, respectively. Groundwater storage at the end of the 20-year EPS scenario was about 281,000 acre-feet (acre-ft), or about 306,000 acre-ft (52 percent) less than the starting storage. Considering the land-surface area of the Washita River alluvial aquifer and using a specific yield of 0.12, this decrease in storage was equivalent to a mean groundwater-level decline of about 30 ft. The Washita River downstream from Foss Reservoir and most of the streams in the study area were dry at the end of the 20-year EPS scenario. Foss Reservoir stage was below the dead-pool stage of 1,597 ft after about 7 years of pumping in the 20-year EPS scenario.

Four projected 50-year groundwater-use scenarios were used to simulate the effects of selected well withdrawal rates on groundwater storage in the Washita River alluvial aquifer. These four scenarios used (1) no groundwater use, (2) groundwater use at the 2015 pumping rate, (3) mean groundwater use for the simulation period, and (4) increasing groundwater use. Groundwater storage after 50 years with no groundwater use was 545,249 acre-ft, or 693 acre-ft (0.1 percent) greater than the initial groundwater storage; this groundwater storage increase is equivalent to a mean groundwater-level increase of 0.1 ft. Groundwater storage at the end of the 50-year period with 2015 pumping rates was 543,831 acre-ft, or 723 acre-ft (0.1 percent) less than the initial storage; this groundwater storage decrease is equivalent to a mean groundwater-level decrease of 0.1 ft. Groundwater storage after 50 years with the mean pumping rate for the study period was 543,202 acre-ft, or 1,349 acre-ft (0.2 percent) less than the initial groundwater storage; this groundwater storage decrease is equivalent to a mean groundwater-level decrease of 0.1 ft. Groundwater storage at the end of the 50-year period with an increasing demand groundwater-pumping rate, which was 38 percent greater than the 2015 groundwater-pumping rate, was 542,584 acre-ft, or 1,967 acre-ft (0.4 percent) less than the initial storage; this groundwater storage decrease is equivalent to a mean groundwater-level decrease of 0.2 ft.

A hypothetical 10-year-drought scenario was used to simulate the effects of a prolonged period of reduced recharge on groundwater storage in the Washita River alluvial aquifer and Foss Reservoir stage and storage. To simulate the hypothetical drought, recharge in the calibrated model was reduced by 50 percent during the simulated drought period (1983–1992). Groundwater storage at the end of the drought period in December 1992 was 562,000 acre-ft, or 36,000 acre-ft (6 percent) less than the groundwater storage of the calibrated groundwater model (598,000 acre-ft). At the end of the hypothetical drought, the largest changes in saturated thickness (as great as 43.5 ft) were in the area upgradient from Foss Reservoir, particularly in the terrace at the model boundary. Substantial decreases in the Foss Reservoir stage began during the fall of 1985 in conjunction with base-flow decreases of up to 100 percent at U.S. Geological Survey streamgage 07324200 Washita River near Hammon, Okla. These lake-stage declines outpaced groundwater-level declines in the surrounding aquifer. The minimum Foss Reservoir storage simulated during the drought period was 77,954 acre-ft, which was a decrease of 46 percent from the nondrought storage.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2020
Title Hydrogeology, numerical simulation of groundwater flow, and effects of future water use and drought for reach 1 of the Washita River alluvial aquifer, Roger Mills and Custer Counties, western Oklahoma, 1980–2015
DOI 10.3133/sir20205118
Authors John H. Ellis, Derek W. Ryter, Leland T. Fuhrig, Kyle W. Spears, Shana L. Mashburn, Ian M.J. Rogers
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2020-5118
Index ID sir20205118
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Oklahoma-Texas Water Science Center