Ground Water Atlas of the United States: Segment 3, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska

Hydrologic Atlas 730-D
By:  and 



The three States-Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska-that comprise Segment 3 of this Atlas are in the central part of the United States. The major rivers that drain these States are the Niobrara, the Platte, the Kansas, the Arkansas, and the Missouri; the Mississippi River is the eastern boundary of the area. These rivers supply water for many uses but ground water is the source of slightly more than one-half of the total water withdrawn for all uses within the three-State area. The aquifers that contain the water consist of consolidated sedimentary rocks and unconsolidated deposits that range in age from Cambrian through Quaternary. This chapter describes the geology and hydrology of each of the principal aquifers throughout the three-State area.

Some water enters Segment 3 as inflow from rivers and aquifers that cross the segment boundaries, but precipitation, as rain and snow, is the primary source of water within the area. Average annual precipitation (1951-80) increases from west to east and ranges from about 16 to 48 inches (fig. 1). The climate of the western one-third of Kansas and Nebraska, where the average annual precipitation generally is less than 20 inches per year, is considered to be semiarid. This area receives little precipitation chiefly because it is distant from the Gulf of Mexico, which is the principal source of moisture-laden air for the entire segment, but partly because it is located in the rain shadow of the Rocky Mountains. Average annual precipitation is greatest in southeastern Missouri.

Much of the precipitation is returned to the atmosphere by evapotranspiration, which is the combination of evaporation from the land surface and surface-water bodies, and transpiration from plants. Some of the precipitation either flows directly into streams as overland runoff or percolates into the soil and then moves downward into aquifers where it is stored for a time and subsequently released as base flow to streams. Average annual runoff, which is the total discharge into a stream from surface- and ground-water sources, ranges from about 0.2 inch in the western part of the area to about 20 inches in southeastern Missouri (fig. 2). Average annual runoff generally reflects the distribution of average annual precipitation during the same period. However, runoff is less than precipitation everywhere and ranges from less than 5 to about 35 percent of the average annual precipitation. Evapotranspiration rates are high, especially in the western one-half of the area; thus, only a small percentage of the precipitation is available to recharge aquifers in most places. Locally, however, runoff might be significantly less than shown in figure 2, and ground-water recharge, greater, especially where highly permeable rocks or deposits at the land surface allow precipitation to rapidly infiltrate. Examples of such places are the Sand Hills area of Nebraska, which is blanketed by permeable windblown sands, and parts of southern Missouri, where permeable limestone is at or near the land surface.

The land surface of Segment 3 generally slopes gradually from west to east. In the Great Plains Physiographic Province (fig. 3), the altitude of the flat land surface locally is about 5,000 feet above sea level in westernmost Nebraska. By contrast, in the flat Coastal Plain Physiographic Province of eastern Missouri, the altitude is about 500 feet above sea level. The land surface is gently rolling in the Central Lowland Province except where major rivers and their tributaries are deeply incised. In the Ozark Plateaus Physiographic Province, rugged topography has developed where the underlying rocks have been uplifted and deeply eroded.

Study Area

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Ground Water Atlas of the United States: Segment 3, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska
Series title Hydrologic Atlas
Series number 730
Chapter D
ISBN 0607883030
DOI 10.3133/ha730D
Year Published 1997
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Contributing office(s) U.S. Geological Survey
Description 24 p.
Larger Work Title Ground Water Atlas of the United States
First page D1
Last page D24
Country United States
State Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska
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