Science in the Colorado River Basin

Science Center Objects

The Colorado River is one of the longest rivers in the Western United States. It begins in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and flows southwestward until it reaches Mexico where it becomes a small stream or dry riverbed. The Colorado River forms the border between southeastern Nevada and northwestern Arizona. In Nevada, Hoover Dam and Davis Dam control the flow of the river and create two reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Mohave. Hoover Dam and Davis Dam both generate hydroelectric power for Nevada and neighboring states.

Use of water from the Colorado River is carefully controlled by the Colorado River Compact, a 1922 agreement which specifies the allocation of water rights between Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico, Arizona, California, and Nevada. In addition to the Colorado River Compact, several other laws, contracts, and guidelines define the "Law of the River."

The Colorado River Basin (Region 13) covers just over 2,500 square miles in southern Nevada and includes the following hydrographic areas: Dry Valley, Rose Valley, Eagle Valley, Spring Valley, patterson Valley, panaca Valley, Clover Valley, Lower Meadow Valley Wash, Kane Springs Valley, White RIver Valley, pahroc Valley, pahranagat Valley, Coyote Springs Valley, Three Lakes Valley, Las Vegas Valley, Colorado River Valley, piute Valley, Black Mountains Area, Garnet Valley, Hidden Valley, California Wash, Muddy River Springs Area, Lower Moapa Valley, Tule Desert, Virgin River Valley, Gold Butte Area, and Greasewood Area.

The Muddy River and Virgin River also are part of the Colorado River Basin.

USGS Nevada Water Science Center maintains several streamflow gages on the Colorado River.

DATA

Real-Time Streamflow :: Daily Values :: Peak-Flow :: Water Quality

Sampling soil for a study of the migration of palliative chemicals used for dust abatement, Nevada
Sampling soil for a study of the migration of palliative chemicals used for dust abatement, Nevada. (Public domain.)

 

ACTIVE STUDIES IN THE COLORADO RIVER BASIN

Evaluation of the Migration of Palliative Chemicals Used for Dust Abatement, Clark County, Nevada

For more information, contact Erin Orozco

The USGS Nevada Water Science Center is collaborating with the Bureau of Land Management and PolyAnalyltik Laboratory in Ontario, Canada to evaluate the potential migration of butyl acrylate vinyl acetate (dust palliative) in soil and storm runoff from areas of application in southern Nevada. There is concern regarding the exposure of the desert tortoise and other wildlife to palliative chemicals in water that may pool down gradient from areas of palliative application after rain events.

Visit the project web page: Evaluation of the Migration of Palliative Chemicals Used for Dust Abatement, Clark County, Nevada

 

Evaporation from Lake Mead and Lake Mohave, Lower Colorado River Basin, Nevada and Arizona

For more information, contact Michael Moreo

Evaporation Station on Lake Mead, Arizona and Nevada
Measurement station on Lake Mead (Credit: Michael Moreo, USGS. Public domain.)

The Bureau of Reclamation currently operates a model that projects future Colorado River reservoir volumes and potential dam operations based on current and forecasted hydrologic conditions, and operational policies and guidelines (the 24-Month Study). Each month a water budget is developed and Colorado River reservoir volumes and releases are projected for the next 24-month period. Reservoir evaporation is a water-budget term currently used in the model that is based on poorly documented modifications to original USGS estimates that resulted from pioneering reconnaissance efforts in the 1940’s and 1950’s. The USGS Nevada Water Science Center and Reclamation are cooperating on a multi-phase study to improve 24-Month Study model projections by improving monthly estimates of evaporation from Lake Mead and Lake Mohave. The continuous data needed to compute monthly evaporation are being collected from floating-platform and land-based measurement stations located at each reservoir.

Visit the project web page: Evaporation from Lake Mead and Lake Mohave, Lower Colorado River Basin, Nevada and Arizona

 

Measurements of Stream Discharge and Analysis of Surface Water/Groundwater Interactions in Las Vegas Wash, Las Vegas, NV

Las Vegas Wash, Las Vegas, Nev.
Las Vegas Wash (Public domain.)

For more information, contact Jon Wilson

The Black Mountain Industrial (BMI) complex, in Henderson, Nevada, has been the site of industrial chemical production since 1942. Perchlorate contaminants, from activities at BMI, have moved through the groundwater system and have been discovered in the Las Vegas Wash, prompting water resource investigations and groundwater treatment by the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection (NDEP). The USGS Nevada Water Science Center is assisting NDEP's efforts by providing additional surface-water discharge data that are evaluated to better understand the spatial extent, timing, and hydraulics controlling groundwater/surface-water interactions along the Las Vegas Wash. 

Visit the project web page: Measurements of Stream Discharge and Analysis of Surface Water/Groundwater Interactions in Las Vegas Wash, Las Vegas, NV

 

USGS volunteer Carole Moreo assisting with installation of a new evapotranspiration site at Stump Spring, Nev.
USGS volunteer Carole Moreo assisting with installation of an evapotranspiration site at Stump Spring, Nev. (Public domain.)

Groundwater Discharge by Evapotranspiration from Areas of Spring-Fed Riparian Vegetation, Stump Spring and Hiko Springs, Nev.

For more information, contact Michael Moreo

Stump Spring has been designated as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and Hiko Springs currently is in the designation process. Both springs flow intermittently in drainages where the depth to groundwater is shallow. The shallow groundwater flowing to and from the springs sustain scarce desert riparian habitats. BLM has recognized a need for accurate estimates of groundwater discharge by evapotranspiration (GWET) from these riparian spring-discharge areas. The USGS NVWSC is providing GWET estimates for the BLM.

Visit the project web page: Groundwater Discharge by Evapotranspiration from Areas of Spring-Fed Riparian Vegetation, Stump Spring and Hiko Springs, Nev.

 

Drilling a well in the carbonate-rock aquifer, Clark County, Nevada
USGS research drilling team drilling in the carbonate aquifer (Public domain.)

Monitoring Hydrogeologic Conditions in the Regional Carbonate Aquifer, Clark County, Nevada

For more information, contact Jon Wilson

The USGS Nevada Water Science Center is evaluating and enhancing our current understanding of the hydrologic condition of the regional groundwater flow system in Clark County, Nevada. In order to achieve this objective, monitoring wells were installed in consolidated bedrock in six select regions throughout Clark County. Water-level, elevation, and borehole geophysical data were synthesized and used to develop a regional potentiometric map to improve the current understanding of regional groundwater flow within Clark County. Analyses of site specific information relating to flow across structural boundaries, groundwater and surface-water interactions, and chemical condition of waters from drilled wells were also conducted. This information will assist Federal resource managers in making informed decisions about maintaining and protecting groundwater resources within Clark County.

Visit the project web page: Monitoring Hydrogeologic Conditions in the Regional Carbonate Aquifer, Clark County, Nevada

 

USGS scientist collecting water-quality samples from Grapevine Spring, Nevada
Collecting water-quality samples from Grapevine Spring (Public domain.)

Water Quality of Springs in the Spring Mountains

For more information, contact Sara Gedo

The USGS Nevada Water Science Center, in cooperation with the Bureau of Land Management, is sampling and analyzing water from Grapevine, Kiup, and Rainbow Springs to determine the source of water to these springs. These Springs, located in the Spring Mountains in southern Nevada, provide habitat for endangered spring snail species including the southeast Nevada Pyrg (Pyrgulopsis turbatrix) and the Spring Mountains Pyrg (Pyrgulopsis deacon).

Visit the project web page: Water Quality of Springs in the Spring Mountains

 

RECENTLY COMPLETED STUDIES IN THE COLORADO RIVER BASIN

Not all completed studies are listed here. If you would like additional information about completed studies, please email the NVWSC at GS-W-NVpublic-info@ usgs.gov. 

Field sample verification point in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, Nev.
Field sample verification point in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, Nev. (Public domain.)

Delineation of Vegetation Using Satellite Imagery, Clark County

For more information, contact Nancy Damar

In 2006, USGS, in cooperation with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), began a 4-year study of the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area (NCA) to produce a land-cover data set from DigitalGlobe’s QuickBird high-resolution (2.4-meter) satellite imagery and field vegetation data. In 2010, the study was extended to include the Clark County portion of Mormon Mesa, and Coyote Springs and Piute-Eldorado Valley Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC).

Visit the project web page: Delineation of Vegetation Using Satellite Imagery, Clark County