Estimates of ground-water discharge as determined from measurements of evapotranspiration, Ash Meadows area, Nye County, Nevada

Water-Resources Investigations Report 99-4079

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Ash Meadows is one of the major discharge areas within the regional Death Valley ground-water flow system of southern Nevada and adjacent California. Ground water discharging at Ash Meadows is replenished from inflow derived from an extensive recharge area that includes the eastern part of the Nevada Test Site (NTS). Currently, contaminants introduced into the subsurface by past nuclear testing at NTS are the subject of study by the U.S. Department of Energy's Environmental Restoration Program. The transport of any contaminant in contact with ground water is controlled in part by the rate and direction of ground-water flow, which itself depends on the location and quantity of ground water discharging from the flow system. To best evaluate any potential risk associated with these test-generated contaminants, studies were undertaken to accurately quantify discharge from areas downgradient from the NTS. This report presents results of a study to refine the estimate of ground-water discharge at Ash Meadows. The study estimates ground-water discharge from the Ash Meadows area through a rigorous quantification of evapotranspiration (ET). To accomplish this objective, the study identifies areas of ongoing ground-water ET, delineates unique areas of ET defined on the basis of similarities in vegetation and soil-moisture conditions, and computes ET rates for each of the delineated areas. A classification technique using spectral-reflectance characteristics determined from satellite images recorded in 1992 identified seven unique units representing areas of ground-water ET. The total area classified encompasses about 10,350 acres dominated primarily by lush desert vegetation. Each unique area, referred to as an ET unit, generally consists of one or more assemblages of local phreatophytes. The ET units identified range from sparse grasslands to open water. Annual ET rates are computed by energy-budget methods from micrometeorological measurements made at 10 sites within six of the seven identified ET units. Micrometeorological data were collected for a minimum of 1 year at each site during 1994 through 1997. Evapotranspiration ranged from 0.6 foot per year in a sparse, dry saltgrass environment to 8.6 feet per year over open water. Ancillary data, including water levels, were collected during this same period to gain additional insight into the evapotranspiration process. Water levels measured in shallow wells showed annual declines of more than 10 feet and daily declines as high as 0.3 foot attributed to water losses associated with evapotranspiration. Mean annual ET from the Ash Meadows area is estimated at 21,000 acre-feet. An estimate of ground-water discharge, based on this ET estimate, is presented as a range to account for uncertainties in the contribution of local precipitation. The estimates given for mean annual ground-water discharge range from 18,000 to 21,000 acre-feet. The low estimate assumes a large contribution from local precipitation in computed ET rates; whereas, the high estimate assumes no contribution from local precipitation. The range presented is only slightly higher than previous estimates of ground-water discharge from the Ash Meadows area based primarily on springflow measurements.

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Estimates of ground-water discharge as determined from measurements of evapotranspiration, Ash Meadows area, Nye County, Nevada
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Water-Resources Investigations Report
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U.S. Dept. of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey ; Branch of Information Services [distributor],
vi, 70 p. :ill. (some col.), maps (some col.) ;28 cm.