Evaluation of the Characteristics, Discharge, and Water Quality of Selected Springs at Fort Irwin National Training Center, San Bernardino County, California

Scientific Investigations Report 2023-5142
Water Availability and Use Science Program
Prepared in cooperation with the U.S. Army Fort Irwin National Training Center
By: , and 



Eight springs and seeps at Fort Irwin National Training Center were described and categorized by their general characteristics, discharge, geophysical properties, and water quality between 2015 and 2017. The data collected establish a modern (2017) baseline of hydrologic conditions at the springs. Two types of springs were identified: (1) precipitation-fed upland springs (Cave, Desert King, Devouge, No Name, and Panther Springs) and (2) groundwater discharge-fed basin springs (Garlic, Bitter, and Jack Springs). Comparison of electrical resistivity tomography data collected at groundwater basin springs from 2015 to 2017 indicated that spring discharge and connection to the underlying groundwater system is highly focused, although the springs themselves appear diffuse and are spread out over a large area.

Spring discharge was consistently less than reported by Thompson (1929), except at Garlic Spring where discharges and vegetation have increased in recent years. Multiple discrete flume and seepage meter measurements taken between October 2015 and April 2016 indicated that discharge changed predictably on diurnal and seasonal timescales in response to evapotranspiration. These preliminary results and the lush vegetation noted at some of the springs, particularly at Bitter, Garlic, and Jack Springs, indicated plant evapotranspiration accounts for a substantial part of the discharge from these springs.

The quality of water ranges from fresh in precipitation-fed upland springs (Cave, Desert King, Devouge, and Panther Springs) to slightly saline (Garlic and Jack Springs) and moderately saline (Bitter Spring) in groundwater-fed discharge springs. Nitrate concentrations from water at most of the springs were less than 3 milligrams per liter, except for samples from Devouge and Desert King Springs and one sample from Jack Spring. An analysis of delta nitrogen-15 in nitrate (δ15N-NO3) and delta oxygen-18 in nitrate (δ18O-NO3) indicates high nitrate concentrations in excess of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency maximum contaminant level at Jack Spring and Desert King Spring resulting from the dissolution of nitrate-bearing caliche deposits; nitrate concentrations at Devouge Spring are a result of algal growth within the spring, and the source of nitrate concentrations in Garlic Spring are consistent with a treated wastewater origin from Langford Valley-Irwin subbasin upgradient. The source of water in upland springs, indicated by values of delta oxygen-18 (δ18O) and delta deuterium (δD) are consistent with recharge from winter precipitation. In groundwater basin springs, values of δ18O and δD are consistent with groundwater sampled from nearby wells. Summer monsoonal precipitation appears to contribute little water to spring flow. Most springs contain low levels of tritium and appear to be primarily older (pre-1950s) groundwater. Groundwater basin springs with detectable tritium may result from occasional streamflow in nearby washes. These springs could be susceptible to decreases in flow during extended dry periods when the localized recharge may be reduced due to the loss of focused recharge through nearby washes.

Groundwater samples from Garlic and Bitter Springs contained arsenic concentrations above the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency maximum contaminant level. Groundwater samples from all springs, except Cave, Desert King, and Devouge Springs, exceeded the State of California maximum contaminant level for fluoride. Garlic Spring was the only sampled spring that contained vanadium concentrations that exceeded the State of California notification level. Only a single water sample from Jack Spring contained uranium at a concentration that exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency maximum contaminant level.

Many other constituents of concern were analyzed, including those from anthropogenic sources that may be a result of military activities. Most of these constituents were not detected above their respective reporting levels in spring water; only 15 were detected in spring waters. Diesel and gasoline degradants, many of which also occur naturally, were the most commonly detected compounds. Several other organic compounds, primarily solvents or their degradants, were detected in groundwater basin springs. These constituents, in order of decreasing detection frequency, were carbon disulfide; perchlorate; mercury; acetone; methylnaphthalene; toluene; methyl ethyl ketone; cyanide; and styrene; 4-iso-propyl-toluene; isopropylbenzene; methyl salicylate; and phenol. Except for Garlic Spring, which is affected by discharges of treated wastewater, the quality of water from most springs appears to be relatively unaffected by activities at the Fort Irwin National Training Center.

Suggested Citation

Densmore, J.N., Thayer, D.C., Dick, M.C., Swarzenski, P.W., Ball, L.B., Rosecrans, C.Z., and Johnson, C., 2024, Evaluation of the characteristics, discharge, and water quality of selected springs at Fort Irwin National Training Center, San Bernardino County, California: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2023–5142, 87 p., https://doi.org/10.3133/sir20235142.

ISSN: 2328-0328 (online)

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgments 
  • Abstract 
  • Introduction 
  • Characterization Methods: Geophysical, Hydrological, and Water Quality 
  • Description of Study Areas 
  • Evaluation of Springs 
  • Summary and Conclusions 
  • References Cited
Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Evaluation of the characteristics, discharge, and water quality of selected springs at Fort Irwin National Training Center, San Bernardino County, California
Series title Scientific Investigations Report
Series number 2023-5142
DOI 10.3133/sir20235142
Year Published 2024
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) California Water Science Center, Crustal Geophysics and Geochemistry Science Center, Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center
Description Report: xii, 87 p.; 2 Data Releases
Country United States
State California
Other Geospatial Fort Irwin National Training Center
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
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