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Scientific Investigations Report 2014–5149

Prepared in cooperation with the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission

Aquifers of Arkansas—Protection, Management, and Hydrologic and Geochemical Characteristics of Groundwater Resources in Arkansas

By Timothy M. Kresse, Phillip D. Hays, Katherine R. Merriman, Jonathan A. Gillip, D. Todd Fugitt, Jane L. Spellman, Anna M. Nottmeier, Drew A. Westerman, Joshua M. Blackstock, and James L. Battreal

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (54.8 MB)Abstract

Sixteen aquifers in Arkansas that currently serve or have served as sources of water supply are described with respect to existing groundwater protection and management programs, geology, hydrologic characteristics, water use, water levels, deductive analysis, projections of hydrologic conditions, and water quality. State and Federal protection and management programs are described according to regulatory oversight, management strategies, and ambient groundwater-monitoring programs that currently (2013) are in place for assessing and protecting groundwater resources throughout the State.

Physical attributes, groundwater geochemistry, and groundwater quality are described for each of the 16 aquifers of the State. Information in regard to the hydrology and geochemistry of each of the aquifers is summarized from about 550 historical and recent publications. Additionally, more than 8,000 sites with groundwater-quality data were obtained from the U.S. Geological Survey National Water Information System and the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality databases and entered into a spatial database to investigate distribution and trends in chemical constituents for each of the aquifers.

The 16 aquifers of the State were divided into two major physiographic regions of the State: the Coastal Plain Province (referred to as Coastal Plain) of eastern and southern Arkansas, which includes 11 of the 16 aquifers, and the Interior Highlands Division (referred to as Interior Highlands) of western Arkansas, which includes the remaining 5 aquifers. The 11 aquifers in the Coastal Plain consist of various geologic units that are Cenozoic in age and consist primarily of Cretaceous, Tertiary, and Quaternary sands, gravels, silts, and clays. Groundwater in the Coastal Plain represents one of the most valuable natural resources in the State, driving the economic engines of agriculture, while also supplying abundant water for commercial, industrial, and public-supply use. In terms of age from youngest to oldest, the aquifers of the Coastal Plain include Quaternary alluvial aquifers, including the Mississippi River Valley alluvial aquifer (the most important aquifer in Arkansas in terms of volume of use and economic benefits), the Jackson Group (a regional confining unit that served for decades as an important source of domestic supply), and the Cockfield, Sparta, Cane River, Carrizo, Wilcox, Nacatoch, Ozan, Tokio, and Trinity aquifers. The Mississippi River Valley alluvial aquifer accounts for approximately 94 percent of all groundwater used in the State, and the aquifer is used primarily for irrigation purposes. The Sparta aquifer is the second most important aquifer in terms of use, and the aquifer was used in the past dominantly as a source of public and industrial supply, although increasing irrigation use is occurring because of critically declining water levels in the Mississippi River Valley alluvial aquifer. Other aquifers of the Coastal Plain generally are used as important local sources of domestic, industrial, and public supply, in addition to other minor uses. Water quality generally is good for all aquifers of the Coastal Plain, except for elevated iron concentrations and localized areas of high salinity. The high salinity results from intrusion from underlying formations, evapotranspiration processes in areas of low recharge, and inadequate flushing in downgradient areas of residual salinity from deposition in marine environments. Trends in the spatial distribution of individual chemical constituents are related to position along the flow path for most aquifers of the Coastal Plain. These trends include elevated iron and nitrate concentrations with lower pH values and dissolved solids in groundwater from the outcrop areas, transitioning to lower iron and nitrate (related to changes in redox) and higher pH and dissolved solids (dominantly from the dissolution of carbonate minerals) in groundwater downgradient from outcrop areas. Groundwater generally trended from a calcium- to a sodium-bicarbonate water type with increasing cation exchange along the flow path.

The Interior Highlands of western Arkansas has less reported groundwater use than other areas of the State, reflecting a combination of factors. These factors include prevalent and increasing use of surface water, less intensive agricultural uses, lower population and industry densities, lesser potential yield of the resource, and lack of detailed reporting. The overall low yields of aquifers of the Interior Highlands result in domestic supply as the dominant use, with minor industrial, public, and commercial-supply use. Where greater volumes are required for growth of population and industry, surface water is the greatest supplier of water needs in the Interior Highlands. The various aquifers of the Interior Highlands generally occur in shallow, fractured, well-indurated, structurally modified bedrock of this mountainous region of the State, as compared to the relatively flat-lying, unconsolidated sediments of the Coastal Plain. In terms of age from youngest to oldest, the aquifers of the Interior Highlands include: the Arkansas River Valley alluvial aquifer, the Ouachita Mountains aquifer, the Western Interior Plains confining system, the Springfield Plateau aquifer, and the Ozark aquifer. Spatial trends in groundwater geochemistry in the Interior Highlands differ greatly from trends noted for aquifers of the Coastal Plain. In the Coastal Plain, the prevalence of long regional flow paths results in regionally predictable and mappable geochemical changes along the flow paths. In the Interior Highlands, short, topographically controlled flow paths (from hilltops to valleys) within small watersheds represent the predominant groundwater-flow system. As such, dense data coverage from numerous wells would be required to effectively characterize these groundwater basins and define small-scale geochemical changes along any given flow path for aquifers of the Interior Highlands. Changes in geochemistry generally were related to rock type and residence time along individual flow paths. Dominant changes in geochemistry for the Ouachita Mountains aquifer and the Western Interior Plains confining system are attributed to rock/water interaction and changes in redox zonation along the flow path. In these areas, groundwater evolves along flow paths from a calcium- to a sodium-bicarbonate water type with increasing reducing conditions resulting in denitrification, elevated iron and manganese concentrations, and production of methane in the more geochemically evolved and strongest reducing conditions. In the Ozark and Springfield Plateau aquifers, rapid influx of surface-derived contaminants, especially nitrogen, coupled with few to no attenuation processes was attributed to the karst landscape developed on Mississippian- and Ordovician-age carbonate rocks of the Ozark Plateaus. Increasing nitrate concentrations are related to increasing agricultural land use, and areas of mature karst development result in higher nitrate concentrations than areas with less karst features.

First posted October 29, 2014

For additional information, contact:
Director, Lower Mississippi-Gulf Water Science Center
U.S. Geological Survey
401 Hardin Road
Little Rock, Arkansas 72211–3528

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Suggested citation:

Kresse, T.M., Hays, P.D., Merriman, K.R., Gillip, J.A., Fugitt, D.T., Spellman, J.L., Nottmeier, A.M., Westerman, D.A., Blackstock, J.M., and Battreal, J.L., 2014, Aquifers of Arkansas—Protection, management, and hydrologic and geochemical characteristics of groundwater resources in Arkansas: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2014–5149, 334 p.,

ISSN 2328-031X (print)

ISSN 2328-0328 (online)






Groundwater Protection and Management Programs

Overview of Aquifers of Arkansas

Aquifers of the Coastal Plain

Aquifers of the Interior Highlands



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