Groundwater pumping is a contentious issue in Nevada, especially as desert metropolitan areas, like Las Vegas, continue to grow and water demands skyrocket. In 2002, in response to a large number of groundwater applications in areas close to Great Basin National Park, the National Park Service asked the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to conduct a study on the susceptibility of park waters. Using data from two years of fieldwork, the USGS published their report in 2006, finding that several areas in the park could potentially lose water if large-scale pumping is conducted in nearby valleys.
Affected Areas in Great Basin National Park
In addition, the study involved conducting seepage runs on several creeks. A seepage run consists of making multiple stream flow measurements along a creek at the same time. The seepage run shows where the stream is gaining or losing wtaer, which is usually explained by looking at the underlying geology. Limestone rock is generally porous, so when stream water reaches it, the water enters the rock and disappears. Snake Creek and South Fork Big Wash cross several limestone areas and are thus hydrologically very interesting. Water chemistry was measured at all the measurement sites for the seepage runs to help understand the underlying geology.
The complete report is available online at http://pubs.usgs.gov/sir/2006/5099.
“The Secretary, acting through the United States Geological Survey, the Desert Research Institute, and a designee from the State of Utah shall conduct a study to investigate ground water quantity, quality, and flow characteristics in the deep carbonate and alluvial aquifers of White Pine County [home of Great Basin National Park], Nevada, and any groundwater basins that are located in White Pine County, Nevada, or Lincoln County, Nevada, and adjacent areas in Utah.”
To develop a better understanding of regional groundwater flow, the USGS Water Science Centers in Nevada and Utah, and the Geology Science Centers in Denver and Menlo Park; DRI in Reno and Las Vegas; and the Utah State Engineer’s Office, are working cooperatively on separate but coordinated tasks.
Current information on this study, known as the Basin and Range Carbonate Aquifer System Study (BARCASS) can be found on the following web site: http://nevada.usgs.gov/barcass/index.htm