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Scientific Investigations Report 2005-5199

Trends in Streamflow on the Humboldt River between
Elko and Imlay, Nevada, 1950–99

By David E. Prudic, Richard G. Niswonger, and Russell W. Plume

Version 1.0

ABSTRACT

The Humboldt River is an important source of water in north-central Nevada. It provides water to several communities and is used extensively for agriculture. Farmers began diverting flow from the river in the 1860’s. Conflicts over water diversions along the river led to the adjudication of water rights and to the construction of Rye Patch Dam and Reservoir in the 1930’s. Increased ground-water withdrawals beginning in the 1960’s have raised concerns regarding their effects on streamflow. The purpose of this report was to analyze streamflow trends from 1950 to 1999 in relation to precipitation and ground-water withdrawals at five streamflow gages on the Humboldt River from Elko to Imlay, Nevada.
Effects of ground-water withdrawals have been superimposed on the variation of streamflow caused by climate, which during 1950–99 was highly variable. Annual runoff normally increased from the streamflow gage near Elko to Palisade because of tributary inflow and ground-water discharge, which maintained a baseflow during the late summer to early winter. Annual runoff normally decreased downstream of Palisade because of irrigation diversions, infiltration of streamflow into the alluvium, and evapotranspiration. The river often ceased to flow downstream of Palisade during late summer because of minimal ground-water discharge to its channel.

The ratio of annual runoff to precipitation varied considerably at all streamflow gages with generally higher ratios during periods of above mean annual precipitation and lower ratios during periods of below mean annual precipitation. Highest ratios were estimated for Lamoille Creek, a headwater stream in the Ruby Mountains, where the average ratio was about 0.7, which indicates that about 70 percent of the precipitation in the drainage area above the streamflow gage became runoff. The ratio of runoff to effective precipitation decreased downstream along the Humboldt River such that on average only 2 percent of the annual precipitation in the drainage area above the streamflow gage near Imlay, Nevada became runoff. This implies that 98 percent of the annual precipitation was lost to evapotranspiration or to ground-water storage.

Ground-water withdrawals above the streamflow gage at Palisade had no significant effect on annual runoff above Palisade on the basis of multiple linear regressions that included annual runoff at an upstream gage, and annual precipitation volumes and ground-water withdrawals between streamflow gages. Ground-water withdrawals between Palisade and Comus had no significant effect on annual runoff to a probability of 0.05 at Comus until 1992, when discharge of water directly to the river from mining operations had a significant effect that slightly increased annual runoff at Comus. Ground-water withdrawals in the reach between Comus and Imlay were significant to a probability of 0.04 and slightly decreased annual runoff at Imlay. Most ground-water withdrawals in the reach between Palisade and Comus were in alluvial basins distant from the river, whereas much of the ground-water withdrawals in the reach between Comus and Imlay were either near the mouths of alluvial valleys adjacent to the Humboldt River Valley or the withdrawals were within the valley proper..

Contents

Abstract

Introduction

Purpose and Scope

Approach

Acknowledgments

Geographic Setting

Physiography

Climate

History of Water Resources Development

Surface-Water Diversions for Irrigation

Ground-Water Withdrawals

Domestic and Municipal Use

Irrigation Use

Industrial Use

Power Generation

Mining Use

Streamflow

Tributaries

Humboldt River

Annual Precipitation Volume

Method Used

Trends

Relation of Annual Runoff to Precipitation

Tributaries

Humboldt River

Effects of Ground-Water Withdrawals on Annual Runoff

Summary and Conclusions

References Cited

Figures

Figure 1. Locations of cultural features including major mines in the Humboldt River Basin, north-central Nevada

Figure 2. Distribution of mean annual precipitation and locations of streamflow gages and weather stations used in analysis of streamflow trends in the Humboldt River Basin, north-central Nevada

Figure 3. Departures from mean annual precipitation at selected weather stations, water years 1950–99

Figure 4. Location of irrigated areas, diversions along the Humboldt River, and reservoirs  on or tributary to the Humboldt River

Figure 5. Annual volumes of water discharged to the Humboldt River or Maggie Creek  by mining operations, 1990–99

Figure 6. Population trends for counties in the Humboldt River Basin, 1940–99

Figure 7. Number of wells drilled annually for different uses in the Humboldt River Basin  above Rye Patch Reservoir, 1950–99

Figure 8. Estimates of annual ground-water withdrawals in the Humboldt River Basin  above Rye Patch Reservoir, 1950–99

Figure 9. Departures from mean annual runoff at streamflow gages on A, Lamoille;  B, Rock; and C, Martin Creeks, water years 1950–99

Figure 10. Cumulative annual runoff at streamflow gages on Lamoille, Rock, and Martin  Creeks, water years 1950–99

Figure 11. Mean monthly discharges at streamflow gages on A, Lamoille; B, Rock; and  C, Martin Creeks, water years 1950–70, 1971–91, and 1992–99

Figure 12. Flow duration at streamflow gages on A, Lamoille; B, Rock; and C, Martin  Creeks, water years 1950–70, 1971–91, and 1992–99

Figure 13. Departures from mean annual runoff at streamflow gages on Humboldt  River A, near Elko; B, near Carlin; C, at Palisade; D, at Comus; and E, near  Imlay, Nevada, water years 1950–99.

Figure 14. Cumulative annual runoff at selected streamflow gages on Humboldt River,  water years 1950–99

Figure 15. Differences in cumulative annual runoff between selected streamflow gages  on Humboldt River, water years 1950–99

Figure 16. Differences in cumulative annual runoff between selected streamflow gages  on Humboldt River compared with cumulative annual runoff at Palisade,  Nevada, water years 1950–99

Figure 17. Mean monthly discharges at streamflow gages on Humboldt River A, near  Elko; B, near Carlin; C, at Palisade; D, at Comus; and E, near Imlay, Nevada,  water years 1950–70, 1971–91, and 1992–99

Figure 18. Flow duration at streamflow gages on Humboldt River A, near Elko; B, near  Carlin; C, at Palisade; D, at Comus; and E, near Imlay, Nevada, water years  1950–70, 1971–91, and 1992–99

Figure 19. Mean daily discharge at streamflow gages on Humboldt River A, near Elko;  B, near Carlin; C, at Palisade; D, at Comus; and E, near Imlay, Nevada,  water years 1950–70, 1971–91, and 1992–99

Figure 20. Mean daily discharges from September through December at streamflow  gages on the Humboldt River A, near Elko; B, near Carlin; C, at Palisade; D,  at Comus; and E, near Imlay, Nevada, water years 1950–70, 1971–91, and  1992–99

Figure 21. Distribution of mean annual precipitation and transects used to determine  regions of different mean annual precipitation with respect to land-surface  altitude

Figure 22. Relation of mean annual precipitation to land-surface altitude by region in  the Humboldt River Basin. 34

Figure 23. Departures from mean annual precipitation volume in drainage area above  streamflow gages on A, Lamoille; B, Rock; and C, Martin Creeks, water years  1953–99

Figure 24. Departures from mean annual precipitation volume in drainage area above  streamflow gages on the Humboldt River A, near Elko; B, near Carlin; C, at  Palisade; D, at Comus; and E, near Imlay, Nevada, water years 1953–99

Figure 25. Relation between annual runoff and effective precipitation volume at  streamflow gages on A, Lamoille; B, Rock; and C, Martin Creeks, water  years 1955–99

Figure 26. Relation between annual runoff and effective precipitation volume at  streamflow gages on Humboldt River A, near Elko; B, near Carlin; C, at  Palisade; D, at Comus; and E, near Imlay, Nevada, water years 1955–99

Figure 27. Ratios of annual runoff to effective precipitation volume at streamflow gages  on A, Lamoille Creek; and B, Rock and Martin Creeks, and effective  precipitation volume to mean effective precipitation volume above each  streamflow gage, water year 1955–99

Figure 28. Ratios of annual runoff to effective precipitation volume at streamflow gages  on Humboldt River, and ratios of effective precipitation volume to mean  effective precipitation volume above streamflow gages near Carlin and at  Comus

Tables

Table 1. Actively operating streamflow gages as of 1999 in the Humboldt River Basin  above Imlay, Nevada

Table 2. Weather stations where precipitation was measured between 1950 and 1999  in the Humboldt River Basin above Imlay, Nevada

Table 3. Drainage areas and percent of areas below and above 6,000 feet altitude for  streamflow gages on Lamoille, Rock, and Martin Creeks, and on the Humboldt  River near Elko, near Carlin, at Palisade, at Comus, and near Imlay, Nevada 16

Table 4. Annual adjustments to the regression equations of mean annual precipitation  and land-surface altitude by region in the Humboldt River Basin, north-central  Nevada for water years 1953–99

Table 5. Areas of land-surface altitude intervals used to estimate precipitation  volumes in drainage areas above selected streamflow gages on Lamoille,  Rock, and Martin Creeks, and on Humboldt River, north-central Nevada

Table 6. Precipitation volumes estimated for water years 1953–99 in drainage areas  above selected streamflow gages on Lamoille, Rock, and Martin Creeks, and  on Humboldt River, north-central Nevada

Table 7. Fractions used to estimate effective precipitation volumes on basis of  partitioning precipitation over three-year periods from 1953 through 1999 in  drainage areas above streamflow gages on Lamoille, Rock, and Martin  Creeks, and above streamflow gages on Humboldt River near Elko, near  Carlin, at Palisade, at Comus, and near Imlay, Nevada

Table 8. Effective precipitation volumes estimated for water years 1955–99 in drainage  areas above streamflow gages on Lamoille, Rock, and Martin Creeks, and on  Humboldt River near Elko, near Carlin, at Palisade, at Comus, and near Imlay,  Nevada

Table 9. Annual ground-water withdrawals estimated for water years 1955–99 in drainage areas above streamflow gage on Humboldt River near Elko, and  between selected streamflow gages from Elko to Imlay, Nevada

Table 10. Results of multiple linear regression models to estimate runoff at streamflow  gages along the Humboldt River from Elko to Imlay, Nevada

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