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Black Hills Hydrology Study

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The Black Hills area is a unique and valuable asset to the State of South Dakota. In addition to its historic landmarks, scenic beauty, timber, and mineral resources, the Black Hills area is a major source of water. Streams flowing from the Black Hills provide water for a multitude of uses in the Cheyenne and Belle Fourche River Basins. In addition, much of western South Dakota and parts of eastern Wyoming are underlain by bedrock aquifers that are recharged in the Black Hills area.

Water resources of the Black Hills area have been stressed by increasing population, resource development, and periodic droughts. Additional water supplies are being developed for rapidly expanding communities. The potential exists for water-quality degradation from mining activity, urbanization, irrigation, forest management activities, and recreational development. Drought conditions in the late 1980's caused reduced streamflow, declining reservoir and ground-water levels, and shortages of water supplies for domestic, municipal, industrial, agricultural, and recreational purposes.

The hydrogeology of the Black Hills area is very complex. Several regional, artesian bedrock aquifers and various local aquifers are exposed and recharged in the Black Hills area. The bedrock aquifers are separated by confining units, which are composed of less permeable rocks. The thickness and permeability of aquifers and confining units are known to change with location (Peter, 1985; Kyllonen and Peter, 1987; Greene, 1993). Numerous fractures, faults, and solution cavities allow flow of water in rocks that otherwise are relatively impermeable. This is especially true of the Madison Limestone, which is well known for its karst features, including sinkholes and water-loss zones in streams, collapse features, solution cavities, and caves. Surface- and ground-water resources are connected by water-loss zones in streams and by large springs originating from one or more aquifers. Development of ground-water resources may affect surface-water resources. Conversely, development or contamination of surface-water resources may affect ground water. Detailed hydrogeologic information is necessary for effective management of water resources in the Black Hills area.

Photograph by Earl A. Greene

Large solution openings in the Madison Limestone. There's a staff gage that measures the depth of the water.

Large solution openings in the Madison Limestone provide conduits that store and transmit large volumes of water. The staff gage measures the water depth, which is about 1 feet in a cave lake near Rapid City.

To address the need for regional hydrogeologic information, the Black Hills Hydrology Study was initiated in 1990 as a long-term investigation designed to assess the quantity, quality, and distribution of surface- and ground-water resources of the Black Hills area. The study was completed in 2002. The Black Hills Hydrology Study was a cooperative effort between the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), and the West Dakota Water Development District (West Dakota). West Dakota served as the primary local cooperating agency and represented various local and county cooperators. West Dakota was assisted in this capacity by a steering committee consisting of area residents and representatives of various local governmental agencies. Photograph by Van A. Lindquist, West Dakota Water Development District

Picture of headwater springflow at edge of Limestone Plateau

Headwater springflow at the eastern edge of the Limestone Plateau provides flow to Rhoads Fork.

 Black Hills Hydrology Study Photos

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