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Discharge, sediment, and water chemistry in Clear Creek, western Nevada, water years 2013–16

May 1, 2018

Clear Creek is a small stream that drains the eastern Carson Range near Lake Tahoe, flows roughly parallel to the Highway 50 corridor, and discharges to the Carson River near Carson City, Nevada. Historical and ongoing development in the drainage basin is thought to be affecting Clear Creek and its sediment-transport characteristics. Previous studies from water years (WYs) 2004 to 2007 and from 2010 to 2012 evaluated discharge, selected water-quality parameters, and suspended-sediment concentrations, loads, and yields at three Clear Creek sampling sites. This report serves as a continuation of the data collection and analyses of the Clear Creek discharge regime and associated water-chemistry and sediment concentrations and loads during WYs 2013–16.

Total annual sediment loads ranged from 870 to 5,300 tons during WYs 2004–07, from 320 to 1,770 tons during WYs 2010–12, and from 50 to 200 tons during WYs 2013–16. Ranges in annual loads during the three study periods were not significantly different; however, total loads were greater during 2004–07 than they were during 2013–16. Annual suspended-sediment loads in WYs 2013–16 showed no significant change since WYs 2010–12 at sites 1 (U.S. Geological Survey reference site 10310485; Clear Creek above Highway 50, near Spooner Summit, Nevada) or 2 (U.S. Geological Survey streamgage 10310500; Clear Creek above Highway 50, near Spooner Summit, Nevada), but significantly lower loads at site 3 (U.S. Geological Survey site 10310518; Clear Creek at Fuji Park, at Carson City, Nevada), supporting the theory of sediment deposition between sites 2 and 3 where the stream gradient becomes more gradual. Currently, a threshold discharge of about 3.3 cubic feet per second is required to mobilize streambed sediment (bedload) from site 2 in Clear Creek. Mean daily discharge was significantly lower in 2010–12 than in 2004–07 and also significantly lower in 2013–16 than in 2010–12. During this study, lower bedload, and therefore lower total sediment load in Clear Creek was primarily due to significantly lower discharge and cannot be directly attributed to sediment mitigation work in the basin.

Water chemistry in Clear Creek shows that the general water type of the creek under base-flow conditions in autumn is a dilute calcium bicarbonate. During winter and spring, the chemistry shifts toward a slightly more sodium and chloride character. Though the chemical characteristics show seasonal change, the water chemistries examined as part of this investigation remain within ecological criteria as adopted by the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection. There was no evidence of aqueous polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) present in Clear Creek water during this study. Concentrations of PAHs, as determined in one bed-sediment sample and multiple semi-permeable membrane device extracts, were either less than quantifiable limits of analysis or were found at similar concentrations as blank samples.

In July 2014, a 250–300-acre fire burned in the Clear Creek drainage basin. One day after the fire was extinguished, a thunderstorm washed sediment into the creek. A water chemistry sample collected as part of the post-fire storm event showed that the stormwater entering the creek had increased the concentrations of ammonium and organic nitrogen, phosphorus, manganese, and potassium; a similar finding of many other studies evaluating the effects of fires in small drainage basins. Subsequent chemical analyses of Clear Creek water in August 2014 (one month later) showed that these constituents had returned to pre-fire concentrations.

Publication Year 2018
Title Discharge, sediment, and water chemistry in Clear Creek, western Nevada, water years 2013–16
DOI 10.3133/sir20185050
Authors Jena M. Huntington, Daniel J. Riddle, Angela P. Paul
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2018-5050
Index ID sir20185050
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Nevada Water Science Center