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Estimates of Natural Ground-Water Discharge and Characterization of Water Quality in Dry Valley, Washoe County, West-Central Nevada, 2002-2003

By David L. Berger, Douglas K. Maurer, Thomas J. Lopes, and Keith J. Halford

Report availability: Portable Document Format (PDF).


The Dry Valley Hydrographic Area is being considered as a potential source area for additional water supplies for the Reno-Sparks area, which is about 25 miles south of Dry Valley. Current estimates of annual ground-water recharge to Dry Valley have a considerable range. In undeveloped valleys, such as Dry Valley, long-term ground-water discharge can be assumed the same as long-term ground-water recharge. Because estimating ground-water discharge has more certainty than estimating ground-water recharge from precipitation, the U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with Washoe County, began a three-year study to re-evaluate the ground-water resources by estimating natural ground-water discharge and characterize ground-water quality in Dry Valley.

In Dry Valley, natural ground-water discharge occurs as subsurface outflow and by ground-water evapotranspiration. The amount of subsurface outflow from the upper part of Dry Valley to Winnemucca and Honey Lake Valleys likely is small. Subsurface outflow from Dry Valley westward to Long Valley, California was estimated using Darcy's Law. Analysis of two aquifer tests show the transmissivity of poorly sorted sediments near the western side of Dry Valley is 1,200 to 1,500 square feet per day. The width of unconsolidated sediments is about 4,000 feet between exposures of tuffaceous deposits along the State line, and decreases to about 1,500 feet (0.5 mile) west of the State line. The hydraulic gradient east and west of the State line ranges from 0.003 to 0.005 foot per foot. Using these values, subsurface outflow to Long Valley is estimated to be 50 to 250 acre-feet per year.

Areas of ground-water evapotranspiration were field mapped and partitioned into zones of plant cover using relations derived from Landsat imagery acquired July 8, 2002. Evapotranspiration rates for each plant-cover zone were multiplied by the corresponding area and summed to estimate annual ground-water evapotranspiration. About 640 to 790 acre-feet per year of ground water is lost to evapotranspiration in Dry Valley. Combining subsurface-outflow estimates with ground-water evapotranspiration estimates, total natural ground-water discharge from Dry Valley ranges from a minimum of about 700 acre-feet to a maximum of about 1,000 acre-feet annually.

Water quality in Dry Valley generally is good and primary drinking-water standards were not exceeded in any samples collected. The secondary standard for manganese was exceeded in three ground-water samples. One spring sample and two surface-water samples exceeded the secondary standard for pH. Dry Valley has two primary types of water chemistry that are distinguishable by cation ratios and related to the two volcanic-rock units that make up much of the surrounding mountains. In addition, two secondary types of water chemistry appear to have evolved by evaporation of the primary water types. Ground water near the State line appears to be an equal mixture of the two primary water chemistries and has as an isotopic characteristic similar to evaporated surface water.

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