Ground-water flow to Death Valley, as inferred from the chemistry and geohydrology of selected springs in Death Valley National Park, California and Nevada

Water-Resources Investigations Report 98-4114

Prepared in cooperation with the Nevada Operations Office, U.S. Department of Energy, under Interagency Agreement DE-AI08-97NV12033



Death Valley lies downgradient from adjacent valleys to the north, south, east, and west in California and Nevada, and is the site of substantial ground-water discharge. The sources of the discharging waters have been discussed by several investigators in the past and are of heightened concern because of the potential disposal of high-level radioactive waste at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, and because of ground-water withdrawals attendant to commercial mining in the northwestern Amargosa Valley region. This report describes high- and low-discharge springs in and along the Amargosa Range that were sampled to augment the level of understanding of the extent and distribution of westward ground-water flow through the range. The Black Mountains do not seem to be part of a significant path of ground-water flow from the Amargosa region. This is attributed to the complex lithology and geologic history of the Black Mountains structural block and to the presence of the intervening Furnace Creek fault zone. The only ground-water discharge associated with the Black Mountains where water chemistry reflects an external source or sources is Saratoga Spring, for which δ2H and δ18O data indicate recharge in the Spring Mountains to the east. The southern part of the Funeral Mountains transmits a large volume of water through faulted and fractured rocks of Cambrian age that lie at or along the distal part of the northeast -oriented Spotted Range-Mine Mountain structural zone. Waters discharging from springs in the Furnace Creek Ranch vicinity (Travertine and Nevares) both compositionally and isotopically resemble waters from the Ash Meadows spring group in the Amargosa Desert. The Ash Meadows springs and water in the Amargosa Valley alluvium likely are chemically representative of ground water entering the southern Funeral Mountains. Much less ground water flows through the central and northern Funeral Mountains than flows through the southern part, as indicated by the geologic setting and chemistry of Keane Wonder Spring. The northern one-half of the mountains comprises early-to-middle Proterozoic metamorphic rocks that are the core of the Funeral Mountains anticlinorium. The core is largely unfaulted, plunges to the northeast and southwest, and is truncated to some extent on the east by the shallow-dipping Boundary Canyon fault. This structural setting and the paucity of springs in the northern one-half of the Funeral Mountains indicate a long traveltime from the Amargosa region to the western margin of the northern and central parts of the mountains. The Grapevine Mountains include the highest elevations in the Amargosa Range. Substantial precipitation and recharge above about 2,000 meters are evinced by numerous small springs and seeps along the east and west margins. The local nature of the recharge is reflected in δ2H and δ18O values and in the spring chemistries that indicate control by Tertiary volcanic rocks. The highest spring discharges associated with the Grapevine Mountains are near the north end of the mountains in the Grapevine Ranch area. The springs in this area are similar chemically and isotopically, except for one or two order-of-magnitude differences in calcium, magnesium, and strontium concentrations and a 1.2 per mil difference in δ13C values. These differences can be attributed to differences in the distal parts of the respective flow paths. The springs also lie at the end of a northeast -oriented structural zone in the Walker Lane Belt, and their δ2H, δ13C, and δ18O values indicate a recharge area likely to the northeast, outside of the Grapevine Mountains.

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USGS Numbered Series
Ground-water flow to Death Valley, as inferred from the chemistry and geohydrology of selected springs in Death Valley National Park, California and Nevada
Series title:
Water-Resources Investigations Report
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
iv, 37 p.
United States
Other Geospatial:
Death Valley National Park