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White Pine County, Nevada, is a Critical Water Source for large areas of Nevada and Utah


White Pine County, Nevada, is a critical recharge area for several major regional flow systems that extend north to the Great Salt Lake and, south to the Colorado River, according to a U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) study.

The ground-water systems underlying many of the valleys in eastern Nevada and western Utah are not isolated but rather contribute or receive flow from adjoining basins. Some large-volume springs cannot be supported entirely by the local recharge from the adjacent mountains and depend on water from potentially hundreds of miles away. The imbalance between recharge and discharge within a basin is an important factor in making decisions that could affect water sustainability in surrounding areas.

This report is the final product of the Basin and Range carbonate-rock aquifer system (BARCAS) study ordered by Congress in the Lincoln County Conservation, Recreation, and Development Act of 2004. The report was prepared in collaboration with the Desert Research Institute (DRI) and the State of Utah, and in cooperation with the Bureau of Land Management.

View the report, “Water resources of the Basin and Range carbonate-rock aquifer system, White Pine County, Nevada, and adjacent areas in Nevada and Utah.”

The USGS study included a water-resources assessment that analyzed the geologic framework and hydrologic processes influencing the quantity and quality of ground-water resources. This information is critical for water-resource agencies to make informed decisions about future water-supply issues. Understanding the factors that influence flows from the aquifer system is necessary in evaluating how future ground-water development may affect discharge, ecosystems and water supplies. Knowing what factors influence the quantity and quality of ground-water resources is essential when developing management plans for a sustainable water resource.

The study designates basin and regional ground-water “budgets,” for 13 hydrographic areas and the entire study area in White Pine County, Nevada. Water budgets enable an accounting of water as it moves through Earth’s atmosphere, land surface and subsurface. In order to do this, scientists from the USGS and the Desert Research Institute (DRI) studied the hydrogeology, recharge and discharge, ground-water flow and geochemistry of the aquifer system.

The study-wide average annual ground-water recharge exceeded annual discharge by about 90,000 acre-feet. Most of this ground-water surplus exits the study area through Snake Valley to the northeast or White River Valley to the south. Annual recharge exceeded discharge in Steptoe Valley by 53,000 acre-feet, and a significant amount of ground water flows from this valley to adjacent areas such as Jakes and White River Valleys to the west, and Spring and Lake Valleys to the east. Annual discharge exceeded recharge in White River Valley by 41,000 acre-feet, and a significant amount of ground water flows into this valley from adjacent areas, such as Jakes, Steptoe, and Cave Valleys.

Ground water flows through three types of aquifers in White Pine County: a shallow basin-fill aquifer, a deeper volcanic-rock aquifer, and an underlying carbonate-rock aquifer. The basin-fill aquifer is the principal source of domestic and agricultural water supply, which is safe for human consumption.

A draft version of the report was released for public comment on June 1, 2007 as U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2007-1156. Public comment was accepted for a period of 60 days, and the report was revised to address comments provided by the public. Public comments and corresponding USGS responses can be viewed on the World Wide Web.


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