Water Resources of the Upper Humboldt River Basin

Science Center Objects

Elko County officials and citizens are concerned about growing demand for groundwater within the county and demands for groundwater that are occurring elsewhere in the state. Because the Humboldt River is fully appropriated, any additional water needed to support growth in the upper Humboldt River Basin will have to come from groundwater. County and state water-resource managers need information that will enable them to make informed decisions regarding future use and development of the water resources of the upper Humboldt River Basin. 

Map of the Upper Humboldt River Basin, Nevada
Map of the Upper Humboldt River Basin, Nevada. Click on map for larger view.(Public domain.)

The upper Humboldt River Basin consists of eight hydrographic areas that together comprise the headwaters of the Humboldt River in northeastern Nevada. From west to east, the main tributaries of the Humboldt River are South Fork Humboldt River, North Fork Humboldt River, Lamoille Creek, Marys River, and Bishop Creek. Elko County officials and citizens are concerned about growing demand for groundwater within the county and demands for groundwater that are occurring elsewhere in the state. Because the Humboldt River is fully appropriated, any additional water needed to support growth in the upper Humboldt River Basin will have to come from groundwater. However, groundwater and streamflow are intimately connected in lowland areas where ground-water discharge to the stream channel maintains streamflow during low-flow conditions. In addition, infiltration of streamflow is a source of groundwater recharge in upland areas.

Any decisions to further develop the ground-water resources of the upper Humboldt River Basin will have to be balanced against the potential effects of such development on streamflow. County and state water-resource managers need information that will enable them to make informed decisions regarding future use and development of the water resources of the upper Humboldt River Basin. To address these needs and concerns, the NVWSC has adopted a phased approach for assessing the water resources of the upper Humboldt River basin in northeastern Nevada. Phase one was completed in 2007–08 and describes the hydrogeologic framework and groundwater conditions. Phase two took place in federal fiscal years 2009–11. The results from phase two were summarized in USGS Scientific Investigations Report 2013-5077, which describes properties of basin-fill deposits, presents an overall water budget for the period 1971–2000, and describes interactions of groundwater and streamflow along the mainstem Humboldt River and its main tributaries.

Well drillers’ logs, available from the Nevada Division of Water Resources (NDWR) website (http://water.nv.gov/data/welllog/) were used to determine hydraulic and lithologic properties of basin-fill aquifers. Components of the water budget were refined based on recent (1971–2000) estimates of annual precipitation, streamflow, evapotranspiration (ET) rates, estimates of subsurface outflow, and annual groundwater pumpage. The overall water budget for the upper Humboldt River basin integrates the eight hydrographic areas encompassing the basin. Interactions between surface water and groundwater were characterized by identifying locations of streamflow losses to infiltration and streamflow gains from groundwater seepage, and along a select reach of the river by comparing stage of the river with adjacent groundwater levels.