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Discharge data collection and analysis and implications for surface-water/groundwater interactions in the lower Las Vegas Wash, Clark County, Nevada, 2016–18

May 25, 2021

The lower Las Vegas Wash represents the terminal surface drainage for the Las Vegas Valley in southern Nevada. In 1997, high concentrations of perchlorate were found in seeps contributing to discharge in this area and traced to an industrial byproduct from manufacturing operations in the mid-1900s at the nearby Basic Magnesium, Incorporated, plant. The discovery prompted a water-resources investigation by the Nevada Department of Environmental Protection (NDEP) to develop an understanding of the nearby groundwater flow system and the dynamics associated with surface-water flow in the Wash. In 2016, the U.S. Geological Survey was tasked with evaluating surface-water discharge in the lower Las Vegas Wash near locations where perchlorate concentrations from the groundwater system had been detected. Results of this study will assist NDEP with identifying areas of groundwater and surface-water interaction and help guide future cleanup and monitoring efforts.

Streamflow discharge is evaluated along a 4-mile section of the lower Las Vegas Wash (referred to as the Wash) and used to describe surface-water and groundwater interactions between the Wash channel and bank sediments. Continuous discharge data were collected during a 2-year period (2016–18) at 5 gaging stations along the Wash. Additionally, multiple discrete measurements between gaging stations were collected during 4 synoptic sampling events between 2016 and 2018.

A diurnal discharge pattern, controlled by upstream treated wastewater releases, provided high- and low-discharge markers that are used to compute downstream time-lags of peak and minimum flows. Computed time-lags are used to establish travel times between measurement sites, and difference in upstream and time-lagged downstream hydrographs are used to compute increases (gain) or decreases (loss) in discharge between gaging stations or between gaging stations and discrete measurements. Tributary surface-water inflows to the lower Las Vegas Wash from wastewater discharge, remediation efforts, and periodic flooding from rainfall runoff are included in computing differences in discharge. Differences between discharge data from delineated reaches are used to define locations of daily, monthly, and yearly streamflow gains from or losses to adjacent bank sediments. Construction of additional channel-stabilization weirs have occurred since the completion of this study and the associated change to streamflow dynamics may limit study results to the period analyzed; however, methods and processes described in this report can be used in future evaluations.

Publication Year 2021
Title Discharge data collection and analysis and implications for surface-water/groundwater interactions in the lower Las Vegas Wash, Clark County, Nevada, 2016–18
DOI 10.3133/sir20215034
Authors Jon W. Wilson
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2021-5034
Index ID sir20215034
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Nevada Water Science Center