Evaluation of Black Rock Desert National Conservation Area

Science Center Objects

Minimal hydrologic data are available for the Black Rock National Conservation Area (BRNCA). USGS scientists collected baseline spring flow, groundwater level, and precipitation data to support concurrent ecological studies of perennial springs in the BRNCA by the Desert Research Institute.  The collection of baseline hydrologic data is the initial step for determining how ecosystems in the BRNCA may respond to future hydrologic change. These baseline conditions will be the standard against which effects of climate change and potential groundwater development will be compared.

BRNCA lies within the center of the Black Rock Desert flow system, a large hydrographic region of more than 9,000 square miles in northwest Nevada. National Conservation Areas (NCA) are designated by Congress to conserve, protect, enhance, and manage public lands for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has the responsibility of managing NCAs. The BRNCA consists largely of arid landscapes, including playas and rugged mountains that provide habitat for wildlife and native vegetation. A critical component of this habitat is the fauna and aquatic ecosystems that are sustained by groundwater discharge at perennial springs.



USGS scientist, David Smith adjusting the flume at Cane Spring A, Black Rock National Conservation Area, Nev.
USGS scientist, David Smith, adjusting the flume at Cane Spring A. (Public domain.)

Spring flow was monitored at six sites near Antelope and Cane Springs. The North Antelope Spring site did not flow during the study period.

Continuous spring flow data was measured from 11/16/2012 to 06/04/2014 at these four sites:

During the monitoring period, the largest mean spring flow of 0.059 cubic feet per second (cfs) or 26.48 gallons per minute (gpm) was measured at Unnamed Spring West of Cane Spring, and the lowest mean flow of 0.011 cfs or 4.94 gpm was measured at South Antelope Spring. Continuous sites are rated as fair, 8 percent error, due to site characteristics preventing the capture of 100 percent of spring flow via Parshall flumes. Seasonal change in spring discharge was observed for springs monitored in the study area. Peak spring flow was generally measured during winter months, and declined to a minimum flow in summer and early fall.

Discrete measurements were collected from 02/28/13 to 07/30/13 at this site:

Bulk precipitation gage near Antelope Springs, Black Rock National Conservation Area, Nev.
Bulk precipitation gage near Antelope Springs, Black Rock National Conservation Area, Nev. (Public domain.)



Bulk precipitation was collected at the Cane Springs and Antelope Springs site locations throughout the monitoring period. Precipitation was monitored by using shielded National Weather Service 20.3-cm (8-in.) bulk precipitation gages. Cumulative precipitation between site visits was measured to the nearest 0.01 ft. Cumulative precipitation values were measured near the Cane and Antelope Spring site locations from 9/18/2012 to 6/5/2014.

  • Cane and Antelope Spring bulk precipitation measurements totaled 9.78 and 11.78 inches of rain respectfully during the observation period.
  • Cumulative annual precipitation values were only available for the 2013 calendar year: 7.19 inches at the Antelope Spring and 4.84 inches for Cane Springs.
  • Largest precipitation measurement: 2.32 inches (5/14/2013 to 6/26/2013) and impacted the spring flow in the Lower Unnamed Spring North of Cane Spring on 6/10/2013.



From 2011 to 2014, groundwater levels were measured in 20 wells in the BRNCA area. Wells were measured annually from 2010 to 2014, and at a quarterly frequency from  July 2012 to July 2013. Groundwater levels were measured to the nearest hundredth of a foot. 

Measuring water levels at a Summit Springs Canyon well in the Black Rock National Conservation Area, Nev.
USGS scientist, David Smith, measuring water levels at a Summit Springs Canyon well in the Black Rock National Conservation Area, Nev. (Public domain.)
  • Mean groundwater-level change: 1.18 ft decline for the monitoring network over the study period.
  • Maximum groundwater-level increase: 2.29 ft at Cottonwood Creek Well.
  • Maximum decline: 26.00 ft at the Summit Spring Canyon Well. Summit Springs Canyon well represents the highest altitude of wells measured in the groundwater monitoring network at 6,033 ft above mean sea level. The well is located at an abandoned windmill and is completed to a depth of 100 ft below land surface. The cause of the rapid groundwater-level decline at the Summit Springs Well is inconclusive at this time, though the decline may be related to annual trends in precipitation or nearby groundwater pumping.

Data are available by clicking on the well names below: