An existing water-quality data base for the 300- square-mile Indian Wells Valley was updated by means of chemical and isotopic analysis of ground water. The wide range in measured concentrations of major ions and of minor constituents such as fluoride, borate, nitrate, manganese, and iron is attributed to geochemical reactions within lacustrine deposits of the valley floor. These reactions include sulfate reduction accompanied by generation of alkalinity, precipitation of carbonates, exchange of aqueous alkaline-earth ions for sodium on clays, and dissolution of evaporite minerals. Differences in timing and location of recharge, which originates primarily in the Sierra Nevada to the west, and evapotranspiration from a shallow water table on the valley floor result in a wide range in ratios of stable hydrogen and oxygen isotopes. As ground water moves from alluvium into lustrine deposits of the ancestral China Lake, dissolved-solids concen- trations increase from about 200 to more than 1,000 milligrams per liter; further large increases to several thousand milligrams per liter occur beneath the China Lake playa. Historical data show an increase during the past 20 years in dissolved- solids concentration in several wells in the principal pumping areas at Ridgecrest and between Ridgecrest and Inyokern. The increase apparently is caused by induced flow of saline ground water from nearby China, Mirror, and Satellite Lakes. A simplified advective-transport model calculates ground-water travel times between parts of the valley of at least several thousand years, indi- cating the presence of old ground water. A local ground-water line and an evaporation line estimated using isotopic data from the China Lake area inter- sect at a delta-deuterium value of about -125 permil. This indicates that late Pleistocene recharge was 15 to 35 permil more negative than current recharge.