Flow from major springs and seeps along the eastern margin of Death Valley serves as the primary local water supply and sustains much of the unique habitat in Death Valley National Park. Together, these major spring complexes constitute the terminus of the Death Valley Regional Ground-Water Flow System--one of the larger flow systems in the Southwestern United States. The Grapevine Springs complex is the least exploited for water supply and consequently contains the largest area of undisturbed riparian habitat in the park. Because few estimates exist that quantify ground-water discharge from these spring complexes, a study was initiated to better estimate the amount of ground water being discharged annually from these sensitive, spring-fed riparian areas. Results of this study can be used to establish a basis for estimating water rights and as a baseline from which to assess any future changes in ground-water discharge in the park.
Evapotranspiration (ET) is estimated volumetrically as the product of ET-unit (general vegetation type) acreage and a representative ET rate. ET-unit acreage is determined from high-resolution multi-spectral imagery; and a representative ET rate is computed from data collected in the Grapevine Springs area using the Bowen-ratio solution to the energy budget, or from rates given in other ET studies in the Death Valley area. The ground-water component of ET is computed by removing the local precipitation component from the ET rate.
Two different procedures, a modified soil-adjusted vegetation index using the percent reflectance of the red and near-infrared wavelengths and land-cover classification using multi-spectral imagery were used to delineate the ET units within each major spring-discharge area. On the basis of the more accurate procedure that uses the vegetation index, ET-unit acreage for the Grapevine Springs discharge area totaled about 192 acres--of which 80 acres were moderate-density vegetation and 112 acres were high-density vegetation. ET-unit acreage for two other discharge areas delineated in the Grapevine Springs area (Surprise Springs and Staininger Spring) totaled about 6 and 43 acres, respectively; and for the discharge areas delineated in the Furnace Creek area (Nevares Springs, Cow Creek-Salt Springs, Texas Spring, and Travertine Springs) totaled about 29, 13, 11, and 21 acres, respectively. In discharge areas other than Grapevine Springs, watering and spring diversions have altered the natural distribution of the vegetation. More...
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Annual ground-water discharge by evapotranspiration from areas of spring-fed riparian vegetation along the eastern margin of Death Valley, 2000-02