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Scientific Investigations Report 2014–5136

Prepared in cooperation with Oregon Water Resources Department

Simulation of Groundwater Flow and the Interaction of Groundwater and Surface Water in the Willamette Basin and Central Willamette Subbasin, Oregon

By Nora B. Herrera, Erick R. Burns, and Terrence D. Conlon

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (28.9 MB)Summary

Full appropriation of tributary streamflow during summer, a growing population, and agricultural needs are increasing the demand for groundwater in the Willamette Basin. Greater groundwater use could diminish streamflow and create seasonal and long-term declines in groundwater levels. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the Oregon Water Resources Department (OWRD) cooperated in a study to develop a conceptual and quantitative understanding of the groundwater-flow system of the Willamette Basin with an emphasis on the Central Willamette subbasin. This final report from the cooperative study describes numerical models of the regional and local groundwater-flow systems and evaluates the effects of pumping on groundwater and surface‑water resources. The models described in this report can be used to evaluate spatial and temporal effects of pumping on groundwater, base flow, and stream capture.

The regional model covers about 6,700 square miles of the 12,000-square mile Willamette and Sandy River drainage basins in northwestern Oregon—referred to as the Willamette Basin in this report. The Willamette Basin is a topographic and structural trough that lies between the Coast Range and the Cascade Range and is divided into five sedimentary subbasins underlain and separated by basalts of the Columbia River Basalt Group (Columbia River basalt) that crop out as local uplands. From north to south, these five subbasins are the Portland subbasin, the Tualatin subbasin, the Central Willamette subbasin, the Stayton subbasin, and the Southern Willamette subbasin. Recharge in the Willamette Basin is primarily from precipitation in the uplands of the Cascade Range, Coast Range, and western Cascades areas. Groundwater moves downward and laterally through sedimentary or basalt units until it discharges locally to wells, evapotranspiration, or streams. Mean annual groundwater withdrawal for water years 1995 and 1996 was about 400 cubic feet per second; irrigation withdrawals accounted for about 80 percent of that total. The upper 180 feet of productive aquifers in the Central Willamette and Southern Willamette subbasins produced about 70 percent of the total pumped volume.

In this study, the USGS constructed a three-dimensional numerical finite-difference groundwater-flow model of the Willamette Basin representing the six hydrogeologic units, defined in previous investigations, as six model layers. From youngest to oldest, and [generally] uppermost to lowermost they are the: upper sedimentary unit, Willamette silt unit, middle sedimentary unit, lower sedimentary unit, Columbia River basalt unit, and basement confining unit. The high Cascade unit is not included in the groundwater-flow model because it is not present within the model boundaries. Geographic boundaries are simulated as no-flow (no water flowing in or out of the model), except where the Columbia River is simulated as a constant hydraulic head boundary. Streams are designated as head-dependent-flux boundaries, in which the flux depends on the elevation of the stream surface. Groundwater recharge from precipitation was estimated using the Precipitation-Runoff Modeling System (PRMS), a watershed model that accounts for evapotranspiration from the unsaturated zone. Evapotranspiration from the saturated zone was not considered an important component of groundwater discharge. Well pumping was simulated as specified flux and included public supply, irrigation, and industrial pumping. Hydraulic conductivity values were estimated from previous studies through aquifer slug and permeameter tests, specific capacity data, core analysis, and modeling. Upper, middle and lower sedimentary unit horizontal hydraulic conductivity values were differentiated between the Portland subbasin and the Tualatin, Central Willamette, and Southern Willamette subbasins based on preliminary model results.

First posted October 3, 2014

For additional information, contact:
Director, Oregon Water Science Center
U.S. Geological Survey
2130 SW 5th Avenue
Portland, Oregon 97201

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Suggested citation:

Herrera, N.B., Burns, E.R., and Conlon, T.D., 2014, Simulation of groundwater flow and the interaction of groundwater and surface water in the Willamette Basin and Central Willamette subbasin, Oregon: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2014–5136, 152 p.,

ISSN 2328-0328 (online)




Hydrogeologic Framework

Description of Numerical Models Used in this Study

Scenario Simulations


References Cited

Appendix A. Estimation of Recharge from Precipitation and Irrigation

Appendix B. Selected Observation Wells and Base-Flow Estimates, Willamette Basin, Oregon

Appendix C. Estimation of Prescribed Fluxes for Local Model

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