Natural Resources, School of


Date of this Version

January 2001


Published in Ground Water 39:1 (2001), pp. 98–108. Copyright © 2001 David C. Gosselin, F. Edwin Harvey, and Carol D. Frost; journal compilation © 2001 National Ground Water Association; published by John Wiley & Sons Co. Used by permission.


The Great Plains (Dakota) aquifer system is one of the most extensive in North America, extending from the Arctic Circle to New Mexico, and underlies approximately 94% of Nebraska. In Nebraska, we do not have the physical ground water monitoring data at the scale that is necessary to manage ground water flow systems. However, first-order management strategies for this regional aquifer can be developed by understanding the geochemical evolution of the ground water. Using major-ion water chemistry data from 203 wells in 19 counties in eastern Nebraska, reconnaissance δ18O, δD, and δ87Sr data, and two geochemical models, PHREEQC and SNORM, we determine that modern meteoric water, NaCl brines from underlying formations, and cold glacial melt water are the primary sources for the water in the Dakota Aquifer. Based on these three water sources and the geochemical evolution of the various water types, the following first-order management strategies are suggested. In areas where CaSO4 and Ca-Na SO4 type water occur, Pleistocene-age glacial meltwater is the source. This water supply is not easily renewable. It is recommended that detailed water resource evaluation be conducted before extensive development occurs. The source of Ca (± Mg) HCO3 type water is from recharge by local precipitation and should be managed to maintain them as a renewable resource. In mixed ground water type areas, the ground water chemistry reflects the interaction of two distinct water types, one of which is meteoric water and the other is either CaSO4 and Ca-Na SO4-type water or NaCl-type water. If the relatively fresh ground water is extracted at a rate that changes the location of the interface between the end-members, then monitoring changes in water chemistry in a well over time could be used as an early warning system for the onset of potential problems related to over-pumping.