Scientific Investigations Report 2012–5002
The Mosier area lies along the Columbia River in northwestern Wasco County between the cities of Hood River and The Dalles, Oregon. Major water uses in the area are irrigation, municipal supply for the city of Mosier, and domestic supply for rural residents. The primary source of water is groundwater from the Columbia River Basalt Group (CRBG) aquifers that underlie the area. Concerns regarding this supply of water arose in the mid-1970s, when groundwater levels in the orchard tract area began to steadily decline. In the 1980s, the Oregon Water Resources Department (OWRD) conducted a study of the aquifer system, which resulted in delineation of an administrative area where parts of the Pomona and Priest Rapids aquifers were withdrawn from further appropriations for any use other than domestic supply. Despite this action, water levels continued to drop at approximately the same, nearly constant annual rate of about 4 feet per year, resulting in a current total decline of between 150 and 200 feet in many wells with continued downward trends.
In 2005, the Mosier Watershed Council and the Wasco Soil and Water Conservation District began a cooperative investigation of the groundwater system with the U.S. Geological Survey. The objectives of the study were to advance the scientific understanding of the hydrology of the basin, to assess the sustainability of the water supply, to evaluate the causes of persistent groundwater-level declines, and to evaluate potential management strategies. An additional U.S. Geological Survey objective was to advance the understanding of CRBG aquifers, which are the primary source of water across a large part of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. In many areas, significant groundwater level declines have resulted as these aquifers were heavily developed for agricultural, municipal, and domestic water supplies.
Three major factors were identified as possible contributors to the water-level declines in the study area: (1) pumping at rates that are not sustainable, (2) well construction practices that have resulted in leakage from aquifers into springs and streams, and (3) reduction in aquifer recharge resulting from long-term climate variations. Historical well construction practices, specifically open, unlined, uncased boreholes that result in cross-connecting (or commingling) multiple aquifers, allow water to flow between these aquifers. Water flowing along the path of least resistance, through commingled boreholes, allows the drainage of aquifers that previously stored water more efficiently.
The study area is in the eastern foothills of the Cascade Range in north central Oregon in a transitional zone between the High Cascades to the west and the Columbia Plateau to the east. The 78-square mile (mi2) area is defined by the drainages of three streams—Mosier Creek (51.8 mi2), Rock Creek (13.9 mi2), and Rowena Creek (6.9 mi2)—plus a small area that drains directly to the Columbia River.
The three major components of the study are: (1) a 2-year intensive data collection period to augment previous streamflow and groundwater-level measurements, (2) precipitation-runoff modeling of the watersheds to determine the amount of recharge to the aquifer system, and (3) groundwater-flow modeling and analysis to evaluate the cause of groundwater-level declines and to evaluate possible water resource management strategies.
Data collection included the following:
Major findings from the study include:
First posted March 1, 2012
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Burns, E.R., Morgan, D.S., Lee, K.K., Haynes, J.V., and Conlon, T.D., 2012, Evaluation of long-term water-level declines in basalt aquifers near Mosier, Oregon: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2012–5002, 134 p.