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Field screening of water quality, bottom sediment, and biota associated with irrigation drainage in and near Walker River Indian Reservation, Nevada 1994-95

Water-Resources Investigations Report 96-4214

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Abstract

A study was begun in 1994 to determine whether the quality of irrigation drainage from the Walker River Indian Reservation, Nevada, has caused or has potential to cause harmful effects on human health or on fish and wildlife, or may adversely affect the suitability of the Walker River for other beneficial uses. Samples of water, bottom sediment, and biota were collected during June-August 1994 (during a drought year) from sites upstream from and on the Walker River Indian Reservation for analyses of trace elements. Other analyses included physical characteristics, major dissolved constituents, selected species of water-soluble nitrogen and phosphorus, and selected pesticides in bottom sediment. Water samples were collected again from four sites on the Reservation in August 1995 (during a wetterthan- average year) to provide data for comparing extreme climatic conditions.

Water samples collected from the Walker River Indian Reservation in 1994 equaled or exceeded the Nevada water-quality standard or level of concern for at least one of the following: water temperature, pH, dissolved solids, unionized ammonia, phosphate, arsenic, boron, chromium, lead, and molybdenum; in 1995, only a single sample from one site exceeded a Nevada water-quality standard for molybdenum. Levels of concern for trace elements in bottom sediment collected in 1994 were equaled or exceeded for arsenic, iron, manganese, and zinc. Concentrations of organochiorine pesticide residues in bottom sediment were below analytical reporting limits. Levels of concern for trace-elements in samples of biota were equaled or exceeded for arsenic, boron, copper, and mercury. Results of toxicity testing indicate that only water samples from Walker Lake caused a toxic response in test bacteria.

Arsenic and boron concentrations in water, bottom sediment, and biological tissue exceeded levels of concern throughout the Walker River Basin, but most commonly in the lower Walker River Basin. Mercury also was elevated in several biological samples collected throughout the Basin, although concentrations in water and bottom sediment were below analytical reporting limits. Sources of arsenic, boron, and mercury in the Basin are uncertain, but ambient levels reported for a variety of sample matrices collected from western Nevada generally exceed ranges cited as natural background levels. Because these potentially toxic constituents exceeded concern levels in areas that do not directly receive irrigation drainage, concentrations measured in samples collected for this study may not necessarily be attributable to agricultural activities.

Diversion of river water for irrigation may have greater effects on beneficial uses of water and on fish and wildlife than does drainage from agricultural areas on the Reservation. In 1994, agricultural water consumption precluded dilution of ground-water seepage to the river channel. This resulted in concentrations of potentially toxic solutes that exceeded levels of concern. Diversion of irrigation water also may have facilitated leaching of potentially toxic solutes from irrigated soil on the Reservation, but during this study all water applied for irrigation on the Reservation was either consumed by evapotranspiration or infiltrated to recharge shallow ground water. No irrigation drainage was found on the Reservation during this study. However, because 1994 samples of ground-water seepage to the Walker River channel exceeded at least six Nevada waterquality standards, water-quality problems may result should ground-water levels rise enough to cause ground-water discharge to the agricultural drain on the Reservation. Nevertheless, the potential for adverse effects from irrigation drainage on the Reservation is believed to be small because surface-water rights for the Walker River Indian Reservation amount to only 2 percent of total surface- water rights in the entire Walker River Basin.

Study Area

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Report
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Title:
Field screening of water quality, bottom sediment, and biota associated with irrigation drainage in and near Walker River Indian Reservation, Nevada 1994-95
Series title:
Water-Resources Investigations Report
Series number:
96-4214
Year Published:
1996
Language:
English
Publisher:
U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Carson City, Nevada
Description:
iv, 39 p.
Country:
United States
State:
California, Nevada