USGS Visual Identifier

Water Resources of Mellette and Todd Counties, South Dakota

Prepared in cooperation with the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, Mellette County,
West River Water Development District, and the South Dakota Geological Survey

By Janet M. Carter

Water-Resources Invesitgations Report 98-4146


Mellette and Todd Counties are located in south-central South Dakota and have a combined area of 2,694 square miles. The White River and its tributaries, which include the Little White River, drain Mellette County and about one-half of Todd County. Tributaries to the Niobrara River, which include the Keya Paha River, drain the other one-half of Todd County. The average discharge of the Little White River is about 56 cubic feet per second as the river enters Todd County and is about 131 cubic feet per second as it discharges to the White River in northern Mellette County. The average discharge of the Keya Paha River just outside Todd County is about 39 cubic feet per second. The average annual runoff for Mellette and Todd Counties ranges from 0.94 to 2.36 inches based on records from nine streamflow-gaging stations in and near the counties. The average annual runoff is 1.62 inches, which compares with the average annual precipitation of about 19 inches.

In Todd County, shallow wells completed in the alluvial, Ogallala, Arikaree, and White River aquifers generally can supply water that has low concentrations of dissolved solids, is fresh, and is soft to moderately hard. Ground water from shallow aquifers is limited in Mellette County; therefore, deep wells, often greater than 1,000 feet, are sometimes installed. The Pierre Shale often is used to supply rural domestic and stock wells in Mellette County even though well yields are low and the water has high dissolved solids, is moderately saline, and is very hard.

Alluvial aquifers are present in both counties and store an estimated 1.6 million acre-feet of water. The water quality of the alluvial aquifers is dependent on the underlying deposits, and generally the water has low concentrations of dissolved solids, is fresh, and is soft to moderately hard where underlain by the Ogallala and Arikaree Formations; has moderate concentrations of dissolved solids, is slightly saline, and is hard where underlain by the White River Group; and has high concentrations of dissolved solids, is saline, and is very hard where underlain by the Pierre Shale. Also, yields often are lower where the alluvial aquifers are underlain by the Pierre Shale.

The Ogallala aquifer is present in only Todd County, and the Arikaree aquifer is present throughout most of Todd County and southwestern and south-central Mellette County. The Ogallala aquifer contains an estimated 17 million acre-feet of water in storage, and the Arikaree aquifer contains an estimated 50 million acre-feet of water in storage. Both aquifers generally are suitable for irrigation, and yields from these aquifers are sometimes greater than 1,000 gallons per minute. Nitrate concentrations in 13 out of 92 water samples collected from the Ogallala aquifer exceeded the Primary Drinking Water Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) of 10 milligrams per liter. In 11 out of 46 samples collected from the Arikaree aquifer, arsenic concentrations exceeded the MCL of 50 micrograms per liter.

The White River aquifer, where present, is usually the shallowest source of ground water in Mellette County. The White River aquifer also is used in northern Todd County where the Ogallala and Arikaree aquifers are not present. The White River aquifer contains an estimated 50 million acre-feet of water in storage. Reported yields from the aquifer range from 1 to 30 gallons per minute, which generally is insufficient to support irrigation in most areas. However, yields are sufficient for livestock-watering and rural-domestic purposes.

In both counties, the Pierre Shale is the shallowest bedrock aquifer and is exposed at the land surface throughout most of Mellette County. This aquifer is used primarily in Mellette County. Although the aquifer contains an estimated maximum of 1.5 million acre-feet of water in storage, it is not a viable source of ground water because the aquifer is relatively impermeable, yields are low, and water usually can be obtained from shallower sources, especially in Todd County. Reported yields from the Pierre Shale aquifer range from 1 to 8 gallons per minute.

Because few test holes and wells penetrate below the Pierre Shale, little is known about the extent of the deeper bedrock aquifers. All wells completed in the Dakota Sandstone, Inyan Kara, and Minnelusa and Madison aquifers in the counties are used for stock-watering purposes. High concentrations of dissolved solids and hard water are characteristic of the water quality in the bedrock aquifers. Depths to the top of the deeper bedrock aquifers range from 1,270 feet to greater than 2,000 feet below land surface.





Purpose and Scope

Methods of investigation

Generalized geology


Water resources


Surface water

Drainage basins


Flow duration

Flood information


Water quality

Ground water

Shallow aquifers

Alluvial aquifers

Ogallala aquifer

Arikaree aquifer

White River aquifer

Bedrock aquifers

Pierre Shale aquifer

Dakota Sandstone aquifer

Inyan Kara aquifer

Minnelusa and Madison aquifer

Water quality

Water use

Summary and conclusions

References cited

This report is available online in Portable Document Format (PDF). If you do not have the Adobe Acrobat PDF Reader, it is available for free download from Adobe Systems Incorporated.

Download the Report (PDF, 6MB).

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Send questions or comments about this report to the author, J.M. Carter (605) 355-4560 ext. 215.

For more information about USGS activities in South Dakota, visit the USGS South Dakota District home page.

U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey
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Last modified: Thursday, September 01 2005, 05:15:44 PM
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