This study was initiated to expand upon previous findings that indicated concentrations of dissolved solids, arsenic, boron, mercury, molybdenum, selenium, and uranium were either above geochemical background concentrations or were approaching or exceeding ecological criteria in the lower Humboldt River system. Data were collected from May 1998 to September 2000 to further characterize streamflow and surface-water and bottom-sediment quality in the lower Humboldt River, selected agricultural drains, Upper Humboldt Lake, and Lower Humboldt Drain (ephemeral outflow from Humboldt Sink).
During this study, flow in the lower Humboldt River was either at or above average. Flows in Army and Toulon Drains generally were higher than reported in previous investigations. An unnamed agricultural drain contributed a small amount to the flow measured in Army Drain.
In general, measured concentrations of sodium, chloride, dissolved solids, arsenic, boron, molybdenum, and uranium were higher in water from agricultural drains than in Humboldt River water during this study. Mercury concentrations in water samples collected during the study period typically were below the laboratory reporting level. However, low-level mercury analyses showed that samples collected in August 1999 from Army Drain had higher mercury concentrations than those collected from the river or Toulon Drain or the Lower Humboldt Drain. Ecological criteria and effect concentrations for sodium, chloride, dissolved solids, arsenic, boron, mercury, and molybdenum were exceeded in some water samples collected as part of this study.
Although water samples from the agricultural drains typically contained higher concentrations of sodium, chloride, dissolved solids, arsenic, boron, and uranium, greater instantaneous loads of these constituents were carried in the river near Lovelock than in agricultural drains during periods of high flow or non-irrigation. During this study, the high flows in the lower Humboldt River produced the maximum instantaneous loads of sodium, chloride, dissolved solids, arsenic, boron, molybdenum, and uranium at all river-sampling sites, except molybdenum near Imlay.
Nevada Division of Environmental Protection monitoring reports on mine-dewatering discharge for permitted releases of treated effluent to the surface waters of the Humboldt River and its tributaries were reviewed for reported discharges and trace-element concentrations from June 1998 to September 1999. These data were compared with similar information for the river near Imlay.
In all bottom sediments collected for this study, arsenic concentrations exceeded the Canadian Freshwater Interim Sediment-Quality Guideline for the protection of aquatic life and probable-effect level (concentration). Sediments collected near Imlay, Rye Patch Reservoir, Lovelock, and from Toulon Drain and Army Drain were found to contain cadmium and chromium concentrations that exceeded Canadian criteria. Chromium concentrations in sediments collected from these sites also exceeded the consensus-based threshold-effect concentration. The Canadian criterion for sediment copper concentration was exceeded in sediments collected from the Humboldt River near Lovelock and from Toulon, Army, and the unnamed agricultural drains. Mercury in sediments collected near Imlay and from Toulon Drain in August 1999 exceeded the U.S. Department of the Interior sediment probable-effect level. Nickel concentrations in sediments collected during this study were above the consensus-based threshold-effect concentration. All other river and drain sediments had constituent concentrations below protective criteria and toxicity thresholds.
In Upper Humboldt Lake, chloride, dissolved solids, arsenic, boron, molybdenum, and uranium concentrations in surface-water samples collected near the mouth of the Humboldt River generally were higher than in samples collected near the mouth of Army Drain. Ecological criteria or effect con