Interbasin flow in the Great Basin has been established by scientific studies during the past century. While not occurring uniformly between all basins, its occurrence is common and is a function of the hydraulic gradient between basins and hydraulic conductivity of the intervening rocks. The Furnace Creek springs in Death Valley, California are an example of large volume springs that are widely accepted as being the discharge points of regional interbasin flow. The flow path has been interpreted historically to be through consolidated Paleozoic carbonate rocks in the southern Funeral Mountains. This work reviews the preponderance of evidence supporting the concept of interbasin flow in the Death Valley region and the Great Basin and addresses the conceptual model of pluvial and recent recharge [Nelson, S.T., Anderson, K., Mayo, A.L., 2004. Testing the interbasin flow hypothesis at Death Valley, California. EOS 85, 349; Anderson, K., Nelson, S., Mayo, A., Tingey, D., 2006. Interbasin flow revisited: the contribution of local recharge to high-discharge springs, Death Valley, California. Journal of Hydrology 323, 276-302] as the source of the Furnace Creek springs. We find that there is insufficient modern recharge and insufficient storage potential and permeability within the basin-fill units in the Furnace Creek basin for these to serve as a local aquifer. Further, the lack of high sulfate content in the spring waters argues against significant flow through basin-fill sediments and instead suggests flow through underlying consolidated carbonate rocks. The maximum temperature of the spring discharge appears to require deep circulation through consolidated rocks; the Tertiary basin fill is of insufficient thickness to generate such temperatures as a result of local fluid circulation. Finally, the stable isotope data and chemical mass balance modeling actually support the interbasin flow conceptual model rather than the alternative presented in Nelson et al. [Nelson, S.T., Anderson, K., Mayo, A.L., 2004. Testing the interbasin flow hypothesis at Death Valley, California. EOS 85, 349] and Anderson et al. [Anderson, K., Nelson, S., Mayo, A., Tingey, D., 2006. Interbasin flow revisited: the contribution of local recharge to high-discharge springs, Death Valley, California. Journal of Hydrology 323, 276-302]. In light of these inconsistencies, interbasin flow is the only readily apparent explanation for the large spring discharges at Furnace Creek and, in our view, is the likely explanation for most large volume, low elevation springs in the Great Basin. An understanding of hydrogeologic processes that control the rate and direction of ground-water flow in eastern and central Nevada is necessary component of regional water-resource planning and management of alluvial and bedrock aquifers.
Additional publication details
Interbasin flow in the Great Basin with special reference to the southern Funeral Mountains and the source of Furnace Creek springs, Death Valley, California, U.S.