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Budgets and chemical characterization of groundwater for the Diamond Valley flow system, central Nevada, 2011–12

July 29, 2016

The Diamond Valley flow system consists of six hydraulically connected hydrographic areas in central Nevada. The general down-gradient order of the areas are southern and northern Monitor Valleys, Antelope Valley, Kobeh Valley, Stevens Basin, and Diamond Valley. Groundwater flow in the Diamond Valley flow system terminates at a large playa in the northern part of Diamond Valley. Concerns relating to continued water-resources development of the flow system resulted in a phased hydrologic investigation that began in 2005 by the U.S. Geological Survey in cooperation with Eureka County. This report presents the culmination of the phased investigation to increase understanding of the groundwater resources of the basin-fill aquifers in the Diamond Valley flow system through evaluations of groundwater chemistry and budgets. Groundwater chemistry was characterized using major ions and stable isotopes from groundwater and precipitation samples. Groundwater budgets accounted for all inflows, outflows, and changes in storage, and were developed for pre-development (pre-1950) and recent (average annual 2011–12) conditions. Major budget components include groundwater discharge by evapotranspiration and groundwater withdrawals; groundwater recharge by precipitation, and interbasin flow; and storage change.

Groundwater in the basin-fill aquifer of the Diamond Valley flow system was mostly a calcium or sodium bicarbonate water type and generally within acceptable drinking-water standards. The general water type was similar among the individual hydrographic areas. Stable isotopes of oxygen-18 and deuterium from precipitation varied seasonally, such that enrichment from evaporation was greater during warmer months than cooler months. The isotopic signature of shallow groundwater was similar to cool season precipitation, indicating recharge was relatively recent (similar to recent climatic conditions) and was derived from cool season precipitation.

Site-scale groundwater evapotranspiration was estimated from eddy-covariance and micrometeorological measurements collected at four sites and ranged from 0.15 feet per year in sparse, undisturbed shrubland to 1.13 feet per year in a grassland meadow. Vegetation indices calculated from satellite imagery and field mapping were used to define three evapotranspiration units (shrubland, grassland, and playa) and to extrapolate site-scale groundwater evapotranspiration rates to basin-scale estimates. Annual pre-development groundwater evapotranspiration for individual hydrographic areas ranged from 2,900 acre-feet per year (acre-ft/yr) in northern Monitor Valley to 35,000 acre-ft/yr in Diamond Valley. Total groundwater evapotranspiration from the Diamond Valley flow system under pre-development conditions was about 70,000 acre-ft/yr.

Areas of irrigated land in the Diamond Valley flow system increased from less than 5,000 acres in the early 1960s to more than 25,000 acres in 2012 and are mostly for growing alfalfa in southern Diamond Valley. Annual (2011–12) net groundwater withdrawals for irrigation, assumed to be the volume of groundwater consumed by crops and pastureland, ranged from about 420 acre-ft/yr in Antelope Valley to 67,000 acre-ft/yr in Diamond Valley. Total net groundwater withdrawals for irrigation in the Diamond Valley flow system were about 69,000 acre-ft/yr (2011–12).

Groundwater recharge, the largest inflow component to the Diamond Valley flow system, was determined as the sum of groundwater evapotranspiration and net subsurface outflow (subsurface outflow minus subsurface inflow). Annual groundwater recharge estimates ranged from 200 acre-ft/yr in Stevens Basin to 35,000 acre-ft/yr in Diamond Valley.

Subsurface flow between hydrographic basins was evaluated using estimated transmissivity, groundwater-flow sections derived from remotely sensed imagery, and hydraulic gradients determined from 2012 water-level data. Subsurface outflow ranged from 0 acre-ft/yr for Diamond Valley to 3,400 acre-ft/yr for northern Monitor Valley into western Kobeh Valley. Subsurface inflow ranged from 0 acre-ft/yr for southern Monitor Valley to 4,200 acre-ft/yr for Kobeh Valley from northern Monitor and Antelope Valleys.

The pre-development, steady state, groundwater budget for the Diamond Valley flow system was estimated at about 70,000 acre-ft/yr of inflow and outflow. During years 2011–12, inflow components of groundwater recharge from precipitation and subsurface inflow from adjacent basins totaled 70,000 acre-ft/yr for the DVFS, whereas outflow components included 64,000 acre-ft/yr of groundwater evapotranspiration and 69,000 acre-ft/yr of net groundwater withdrawals, or net pumpage. Spring discharge in northern Diamond Valley declined about 6,000 acre-ft/yr between pre-development time and years 2011–12. Assuming net groundwater withdrawals minus spring flow decline is equivalent to the storage change, the 2011–12 summation of inflow and storage change was balanced with outflow at about 133,000 acre-ft/yr.

Publication Year 2016
Title Budgets and chemical characterization of groundwater for the Diamond Valley flow system, central Nevada, 2011–12
DOI 10.3133/sir20165055
Authors David L. Berger, C. Justin Mayers, C. Amanda Garcia, Susan G. Buto, Jena M. Huntington
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2016-5055
Index ID sir20165055
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Nevada Water Science Center