Water Center


Date of this Version



United States government work


Recently (2004) adopted legislation in Nebraska requires a sustainable balance between long-term supplies and uses of surface-water and groundwater and requires Natural Resources Districts to understand the effect of groundwater use on surface-water systems when developing a groundwater-management plan. The South Platte Natural Resources District (SPNRD) is located in the southern Nebraska Panhandle and overlies the nationally important High Plains aquifer. Declines in water levels have been documented, and more stringent regulations have been enacted to ensure the supply of ground-water will be sufficient to meet the needs of future generations. Because an improved understanding of the hydrogeologic characteristics of this aquifer system is needed to ensure sustainability of groundwater withdrawals, the U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the SPNRD, Conservation and Survey Division of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and the Nebraska Environmental Trust, began a hydrogeologic study of the SPNRD to describe the lithology and thickness of the High Plains aquifer. This report documents these characteristics at 29 new test holes, 28 of which were drilled to the base of the High Plains aquifer.

Herein the High Plains aquifer is considered to include all hydrologically connected units of Tertiary and Quaternary age. The depth to the base of aquifer was interpreted to range from 37 to 610 feet in 28 of the 29 test holes. At some locations, particularly northern Kimball County, the base-of-aquifer surface was difficult to interpret from drill cutting samples and borehole geophysical logs. The depth to the base of aquifer determined for test holes drilled for this report was compared with the base-of-aquifer surface interpreted by previous researchers. In general, there were greater differences between the base-of-aquifer elevation reported herein and those in previous studies for areas north of Lodgepole Creek compared to areas south of Lodgepole Creek. The largest difference was at test hole 5-SP-11, where an Ogallala-filled paleovalley prevously had been interpreted based on relatively sparse test-hole data west of 5-SP-11. The base of aquifer near test hole 5-SP-11 reported herein is approximately 230 ft higher in elevation than previously interpreted. Among other test holes that are likely to have been drilled in Ogallala-filled paleovalleys, the greatest difference in the interpreted base of aquifer was for test hole 7-CC-11, northeast of Potter, Nebraska, where the base of aquifer is 180 feet deeper than previously interpreted.

Interpretation of test-hole and borehole geophysical data for 29 additional test holes will improve resource managers’ understanding of the hydrogeologic characteristics, including aquifer thickness. Aquifer thickness, which is related to total water in storage, is not well quantified in the north and south tablelands. The additional hydrostratigraphic interpretations provided in this report will improve the hydrogeologic framework used in current (2014) and future groundwater models, which are the basis for many water-management decisions.