Simulation of groundwater storage changes in the eastern Pasco Basin, Washington

Scientific Investigations Report 2016-5026
Prepared in cooperation with the Bureau of Reclamation
By: , and 



The Miocene Columbia River Basalt Group and younger sedimentary deposits of lacustrine, fluvial, eolian, and cataclysmic-flood origins compose the aquifer system of the Pasco Basin in eastern Washington. Irrigation return flow and canal leakage from the Columbia Basin Project have caused groundwater levels to rise substantially in some areas, contributing to landslides along the Columbia River. Water resource managers are considering extraction of additional stored groundwater to supply increasing demand and possibly mitigate problems caused by the increased water levels. To help address these concerns, the transient groundwater model of the Pasco Basin documented in this report was developed to quantify the changes in groundwater flow and storage. The MODFLOW model uses a 1-kilometer finite-difference grid and is constrained by logs and water levels from 846 wells in the study area. Eight model layers represent five sedimentary hydrogeologic units and underlying basalt formations. Head‑dependent flux boundaries represent the Columbia and Snake Rivers to the west and south, respectively, underflow to and (or) from adjacent areas to the northeast, and discharge to agricultural drains, springs, and groundwater withdrawal wells. Specified flux boundaries represent recharge from infiltrated precipitation and anthropogenic sources, including irrigation return flow and leakage from water-distribution canals. The model was calibrated with the parameterestimation code PEST++ to groundwater levels measured from 1907 through 2013 and measured discharge to springs and estimated discharge to agricultural drains. Increased recharge since pre-development resulted in a 6.8 million acre-feet increase in storage in the 508-14 administrative area of the Pasco Basin. Four groundwater-management scenarios simulate the 7-year drawdown resulting from withdrawals in different locations. Withdrawals of 2 million gallons per day (Mgal/d) from a hypothetical well field in the upper Ringold Formation along the Columbia River could generate 30–70 feet of drawdown, which may reduce landslide susceptibility along the White Bluffs. Drawdowns resulting from a 1 Mgal/d withdrawal from wells screened in either Pasco gravels, upper Ringold Formation, or both Ringold Formation and underlying basalt are simulated in the other three scenarios, and differ because of the contrasting hydraulic conductivities within the screened intervals.

Suggested Citation

Heywood, C.E., Kahle, S.C., Olsen, T.D., Patterson, J.D., and Burns, Erick, 2016, Simulation of groundwater storage changes in the eastern Pasco Basin, Washington: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2016–5026, 44 p., 1 pl.,

ISSN: 2328-0328 (online)

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Hydrogeologic Framework
  • Simulation of Groundwater Flow
  • Scenarios
  • Summary
  • Acknowledgments
  • References Cited
Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Simulation of groundwater storage changes in the eastern Pasco Basin, Washington
Series title Scientific Investigations Report
Series number 2016-5026
DOI 10.3133/sir20165026
Year Published 2016
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Geology, Minerals, Energy, and Geophysics Science Center, Washington Water Science Center
Description Report: viii, 44 p.; Plate; Table
Country United States
State Washington
County Adams County, Franklin County, Grant County
Other Geospatial Pasco Basin
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Additional Online Files (Y/N) Y
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details