Oasis Valley is an area of natural ground-water discharge within the Death Valley regional ground-water flow system of southern Nevada and adjacent California. Ground water discharging at Oasis Valley is replenished from inflow derived from an extensive recharge area that includes the northwestern part of the Nevada Test Site (NTS). Because nuclear testing has introduced radionuclides into the subsurface of the NTS, the U.S. Department of Energy currently is investigating the potential transport of these radionuclides by ground water flow. To better evaluate any potential risk associated with these test-generated contaminants, a number of studies were undertaken to accurately quantify discharge from areas downgradient in the regional ground-water flow system from the NTS. This report refines the estimate of ground-water discharge from Oasis Valley.
Ground-water discharge from Oasis Valley was estimated by quantifying evapotranspiration (ET), estimating subsurface outflow, and compiling ground-water withdrawal data. ET was quantified by identifying areas of ongoing ground-water ET, delineating areas of ET defined on the basis of similarities in vegetation and soil-moisture conditions, and computing ET rates for each of the delineated areas. A classification technique using spectral-reflectance characteristics determined from satellite imagery acquired in 1992 identified eight unique areas of ground-water ET. These areas encompass about 3,426 acres of sparsely to densely vegetated grassland, shrubland, wetland, and open water. Annual ET rates in Oasis Valley were computed with energy-budget methods using micrometeorological data collected at five sites. ET rates range from 0.6 foot per year in a sparse, dry saltgrass environment to 3.1 feet per year in dense meadow vegetation.
Mean annual ET from Oasis Valley is estimated to be about 7,800 acre-feet. Mean annual ground-water discharge by ET from Oasis Valley, determined by removing the annual local precipitation component of 0.5 foot, is estimated to be about 6,000 acre-feet. Annual subsurface outflow from Oasis Valley into the Amargosa Desert is estimated to be between 30 and 130 acre-feet. Estimates of total annual ground-water withdrawal from Oasis Valley by municipal and non-municipal users in 1996 and 1999 are 440 acre-feet and 210 acre-feet, respectively. Based on these values, natural annual ground-water discharge from Oasis Valley is about 6,100 acre-feet. Total annual discharge was 6,500 acre-ft in 1996 and 6,300 acre-ft in 1999. This quantity of natural ground-water discharge from Oasis Valley exceeds the previous estimate made in 1962 by a factor of about 2.5.
Water levels were measured in Oasis Valley to gain additional insight into the ET process. In shallow wells, water levels showed annual fluctuations as large as 7 feet and daily fluctuations as large as 0.2 foot. These fluctuations may be attributed to water loss associated with evapotranspiration. In shallow wells affected by ET, annual minimum depths to water generally occurred in winter or early spring shortly after daily ET reached minimum rates. Annual maximum depths to water generally occurred in late summer or fall shortly after daily ET reached maximum rates. The magnitude of daily water-level fluctuations generally increased as ET increased and decreased as depth to water increased.