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Scientific Investigations Report 2014–5134

Prepared in cooperation with the Osage Nation

Description of Landscape Features, Summary of Existing Hydrologic Data, and Identification of Data Gaps for the Osage Nation, Northeastern Oklahoma, 1890–2012

By William J. Andrews and S. Jerrod Smith

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The Osage Nation of northeastern Oklahoma, conterminous with Osage County, is characterized by gently rolling uplands and incised stream valleys that have downcut into underlying sedimentary rock units of Pennsylvanian through Permian age. Cattle ranching and petroleum and natural-gas extraction are the principal land uses in this rural area. Freshwater resources in the Osage Nation include water flowing in the Arkansas River and several smaller streams, water stored in several lakes, and groundwater contained in unconsolidated alluvial aquifers and bedrock aquifers. The Vamoosa-Ada aquifer is the primary source of fresh groundwater in this area. Fresh groundwater is underlain by saline groundwater in aquifers underlying the Osage Nation. Because of the potential for future population increases, demands for water from neighboring areas such as the Tulsa metropolitan area, and expansion of petroleum and natural-gas extraction on water resources of this area, the U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Osage Nation, summarized existing hydrologic data and identified data gaps to provide information for planning of future development of water resources in the Osage Nation.

Streamflows in the Osage Nation are substantially affected by precipitation. During the relatively wet periods from the 1970s to 2000, the annual streamflows in the Osage Nation increased by as much as a factor of 2 relative to preceding decades, with subsequent decreases in streamflow of as much as 50 percent being recorded during intermittent drier years of the early 2000s. This report summarizes hydrologic data from 3 surface-water sites and 91 wells distributed across the Osage Nation. Data collected at those sites indicate that surface water in the Osage Nation generally has sufficient dissolved oxygen for survival of both coldwater and warmwater aquatic biota. Total dissolved solids concentration exceeded the secondary drinking-water standard of 500 milligrams per liter (mg/L) in up to 75 percent of the surface-water samples, indicating limited availability of potable water at some sites. Some surface-water samples collected in the Osage Nation contained dissolved chloride concentrations exceeding the secondary drinking-water standard of 250 mg/L, with greater chloride concentrations in selected basins appearing to be associated with greater densities of petroleum well locations. Several lakes sampled in the Osage Nation from 2011–12 contained sufficient chlorophyll-a concentrations to be ranked as mesotrophic to eutrophic, indicating impairment by nutrients. Relatively large dissolved phosphorus concentrations in many surface-water samples, compared to water-quality standards, indicate that eutrophication can occur in local streams and lakes.

The amount of fresh groundwater stored in alluvial aquifers and the Vamoosa-Ada bedrock aquifer is adequate for domestic and other purposes in the Osage Nation at the current rate of usage. In areas where these aquifers are absent, groundwater must be pumped from minor bedrock aquifers that produce smaller volumes of water. About 30 and 60 percent of 32 and 54 water samples collected from the alluvial and Vamoosa-Ada aquifers, respectively, contained total dissolved solids concentrations larger than the secondary drinking-water standard of 500 mg/L. Local factors, such as natural seepage of brines or leakage from petroleum and natural-gas extraction activities, may cause substantial variations in dissolved chloride concentration in groundwater in the Osage Nation. Total phosphorus concentrations measured in groundwater samples were similar to dissolved phosphorus concentrations measured in the base flow of several streams.

Total fresh surface-water withdrawals (use) and fresh groundwater withdrawals in the Osage Nation were estimated to have increased from 0.75 to 16.19 million gallons per day and from 0.13 to 2.39 million gallons per day, respectively, over the period from 1890 through 2010. Estimated saline-groundwater reinjection volumes at the heavily developed Burbank Oil Field in the Osage Nation from 1950 through 2012 were many times larger than the total amounts of freshwater withdrawn in this area, with estimated increases in saline-groundwater reinjection in the 2000s probably being related to increased petroleum extraction.

Estimates of freshwater resources in local streams, lakes, and freshwater aquifers and of net annual precipitation indicate that less than 1 percent of freshwater resources and net annual precipitation currently is being withdrawn annually in the Osage Nation. In addition to freshwater resources, the Osage Nation may be underlain by 45,000,000 million gallons of brines, a small portion of which are withdrawn and reinjected during petroleum and natural-gas extraction. Ongoing development of desalinization technology may lead to the ability to expand use of these saline waters in the future.

Several additional studies could improve understanding of the hydrologic resources of the Osage Nation. Development of computer models (simulations) of groundwater and surface-water flow for this area could enable testing of scenarios of localized and widespread effects of future climate variations and water-use changes on streamflows, lake-water levels, and groundwater levels in the Osage Nation. Installation of additional long-term streamflow and water-quality sampling stations, some with continuous water-quality monitors, could expand and improve understanding of surface-water quality. Periodic measurement of groundwater levels and sampling of water from a network of wells could provide better information about trends of groundwater quantity and quality with time. Measurement of water withdrawals at selected sites could enable more accurate estimates of water use. Lastly, better understanding of aquifer properties and spatial distribution of saline groundwater provided by geophysical surveys could improve understanding of fresh and saline groundwater resources underlying the Osage Nation.

First posted August 20, 2014

For additional information contact:
Director, Oklahoma Water Science Center
U.S. Geological Survey
202 NW 66th, Bldg 7
Oklahoma City, OK 73116

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Suggested citation:

Andrews, W.J., and Smith, S.J., 2014, Description of landscape features, summary of existing hydrologic data, and identification of data gaps for the Osage Nation, northeastern Oklahoma, 1890–2012: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2014–5134, 53 p.,

ISSN 2328-031X (print)

ISSN 2328-0328 (online)





Methods of Analysis

Description of Landscape Features of the Study Area

Streamflow and Surface-Water Quality

Groundwater Availability and Quality

Estimated Water Use

Water-Resource Estimates

Data Gaps


References Cited


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