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Reconnaissance investigation of water quality, bottom sediment, and biota associated with irrigation drainage in and near Humboldt Wildlife Management Area, Churchill and Pershing Counties, Nevada, 1990-91

December 31, 1993

A reconnaissance investigation was begun in 1990 to determine whether the quality of irrigation drainage in and near the Humboldt Wildlife Management Area, Nevada, has caused or has the potential to cause harmful effects on human health, fish, and wildlife or to impair beneficial uses of water. Samples of surface and ground water, bottom sediment, and biota collected from sites upstream and downstream from the Lovelock agricultural area were analyzed for potentially toxic trace elements. Also analyzed were radioactive substances, major dissolved constitu- ents, and nutrients in water, as well as pesticide residues in bottom sediment and biota. In samples from areas affected by irrigation drainage, the following constituents equaled or exceeded baseline concentrations or recommended standards for protection of aquatic life or propagation of wildlife--in water: arsenic, boron, dissolved solids, mercury, molybdenum, selenium, sodium, and un-ionized ammonia; in bottom sediment; arsenic and uranium; and in biota; arsenic, boron, and selenium. Selenium appears to be biomagnified in the Humboldt Sink wetlands. Biological effects observed during the reconnaissance included reduced insect diversity in sites receiving irrigation drainage and acute toxicity of drain water and sediment to test organisms. The current drought and upstream consumption of water for irrigation have reduced water deliveries to the wetlands and caused habitat degradation at Humboldt Wildlife Management Area. During this investigation. Humboldt and Toulon Lakes evaporated to dryness because of the reduced water deliveries.