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Scientific Investigations Report 2013–5242

Prepared in cooperation with the Wyoming State Engineer’s Office

Geologic and Hydrogeologic Characteristics of the Ogallala Formation and White River Group, Belvoir Ranch near Cheyenne, Laramie County, Wyoming

By Timothy T. Bartos, Sharon F. Diehl, Laura L. Hallberg, and Daniel M. Webster

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (40 MB)Abstract

The geologic and hydrogeologic characteristics of Tertiary lithostratigraphic units (Ogallala Formation and White River Group) that typically compose or underlie the High Plains aquifer system in southeastern Wyoming were described physically and chemically, and evaluated at a location on the Belvoir Ranch in Laramie County, Wyoming. On the basis of this characterization and evaluation, three Tertiary lithostratigraphic units were identified using physical and chemical characteristics determined during this study and previous studies, and these three units were determined to be correlative with three identified hydrogeologic units composing the groundwater system at the study site—a high-yielding aquifer composed of the entire saturated thickness of the heterogeneous and coarse-grained fluvial sediments assigned to the Ogallala Formation (Ogallala aquifer); an underlying confining unit composed primarily of very fine-grained volcaniclastic sediments and mudrocks assigned to the Brule Formation of the White River Group and some additional underlying sediments that belong to either the Brule or Chadron Formation, or both (Brule confining unit); and an underlying low-yielding aquifer composed primarily of poorly sorted fluvial sediments assigned to the Chadron Formation of the White River Group (Chadron aquifer).

Despite widely varying sediment heterogeneity and consolidation, some limited hydraulic connection throughout the full vertical extent of the Ogallala aquifer was indicated but not conclusively proven by interpretation of similar chemical and isotopic characteristics, modern apparent groundwater ages, and similar hydraulic-head responses measured continuously in two Ogallala aquifer monitoring wells installed for this study at two different widely separated (83 feet) depth intervals. Additional work beyond the scope of this study, such as aquifer tests, would be required to conclusively determine hydraulic connection within the Ogallala aquifer.

Groundwater levels (hydraulic heads) measured continuously using water-level recorders in both monitoring wells completed in the Ogallala aquifer showed a consistent strong upward vertical gradient in the Ogallala aquifer, indicating the potential for water to move from deeper to shallower parts of the aquifer, regardless of the time of year and the presumed effects of pumping of public-supply and industrial wells in the area. Continuous measurement of groundwater levels in the shallowest monitoring well, installed near the water table, and examination of subsequently constructed water-level hydrographs indicated substantial groundwater recharge is likely during the spring of 2009 and 2010 from the ephemeral stream (Lone Tree Creek) located adjacent to the study site that flows primarily in response to spring snowmelt from the adjacent Laramie Mountains and surface runoff from precipitation events. Using the water-table fluctuation method, groundwater recharge was estimated to be about 13 inches for the period beginning in early October 2009 and ending in late June 2010, and about 4 inches for the period beginning in March 2011 and ending in early July 2011. Comparison of previously measured groundwater levels (hydraulic heads) and groundwater-quality characteristics in nearby monitoring wells completed in the Chadron aquifer with those measured in the two monitoring wells installed for this study in the Ogallala aquifer, combined with detailed lithologic characterization, strongly indicated the Brule confining unit hydraulically confines and isolates the Chadron aquifer from the overlying Ogallala aquifer, thus likely limiting hydraulic connection between the two units. Consequently, because of the impermeable nature of the Brule confining unit and resulting hydraulic separation of the Ogallala and Chadron aquifers, and compared with local and regional hydrostratigraphic definitions of the High Plains aquifer system, the groundwater system in Tertiary lithostratigraphic units overlying the Upper Cretaceous Lance Formation at the location studied on the Belvoir Ranch was defined as being composed of, from shallowest to deepest, the High Plains aquifer system (high-yielding Ogallala aquifer only, composed of the saturated Ogallala Formation); the Brule confining unit composed of the Brule Formation of the White River Group and an underlying fine-grained depth interval with sediments that belong to either the Brule or Chadron Formation, or both; and the low-yielding Chadron aquifer (composed of poorly sorted coarse-grained sediments with substantial fine-grained matrix material assigned to the Chadron Formation of the White River Group).

First posted April 17, 2014

For additional information contact:
Director, Wyoming-Montana Water Science Center
U.S. Geological Survey
3162 Bozeman Ave.
Helena, MT 59601

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Suggested citation:

Bartos, T.T., Diehl, S.F., Hallberg, L.L., and Webster, D.M., 2014, Geologic and hydrogeologic characteristics of the Ogallala Formation and White River Group, Belvoir Ranch near Cheyenne, Laramie County, Wyoming: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2013–5242, 100 p.,

ISSN 2328-031X (print)

ISSN 2328-0328 (online)





Description of Study Area

Methods of Study

Overview of the Regional High Plains Aquifer System in Southeastern Wyoming

Geologic Characteristics

Hydrogeologic Characteristics


References Cited

Appendix 1

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