This report, resulting from studies made by the U.S. Geological Survey as part of the interagency Humboldt River Research Project, describes the qualitative and quantitative relations among the components of the hydrologic system in the Winnemucca Reach of the Humboldt River valley. The area studied includes the segment of the Humboldt River valley between the Comus and Rose Creek gaging stations. It is almost entirely in Humboldt County in north-central Nevada, and is about 200 miles downstream from the headwaters of the Humboldt River.
Agriculture is the major economic activity in the area. Inasmuch as the valley lowlands receive an average of about 8 inches of precipitation per year and because the rate of evaporation from free-water surfaces is about six times the average annual precipitation, all crops in the area (largely forage crops) are irrigated. About 85 percent of the cultivated land is irrigated with Humboldt River water; the remainder is irrigated from about 20 irrigation wells.
The consolidated rocks of the uplifted fault-block mountains are largely barriers to the movement of ground water and form ground-water and surface-water divides. Unconsolidated deposits of late Tertiary and Quaternary age underlie the valley lowlands to a maximum depth of about 5,000 feet. These deposits are in hydraulic continuity with the Humboldt River and store and transmit most of the economically recoverable ground water. Included in the valley fill is a highly permeable sand and gravel deposit having a maximum thickness of about 90-100 feet; it underlies the flood plain and bordering terraces throughout most of the project area. This deposit is almost completely saturated and contains about 500,000 acre-feet of ground water in storage. The Humboldt River is the source of 90-95 percent of the surface-water inflow to the area. In water years 1949-62 the average annual streamflow at the Comus gaging station at the upstream margin of the area was 172,100 acre-feet; outflow at the Rose Creek gaging station averaged about 155,400 acre-feet. Accordingly, the measured loss of Humboldt River streamflow averaged nearly 17,000 acre-feet per year. Most of this water was transpired by phreatophytes and crops, evaporated from free-water surfaces, and evaporated from bare soil.
Inasmuch as practically no tributary streamflow normally discharges into the river in the Winnemucca reach and because pumpage is virtually negligible during the nonirrigation season, gains and losses of streamflow during most of the year reflect the close interrelation of the Humboldt River and the groundwater reservoir. An estimated average of about 14,000 acre-feet per year of ground-water underflow moves toward the Humboldt River from tributary areas. Much of this water discharges into the Humboldt River; hovever, some evaporates or is transpired before reaching the river.
More than 65 percent of the average annual flow of the river horn-ally occurs in April, May, and June owing to the spring runoff. The stage of the river generally rises rapidly during these months causing water to move from the river to the ground-water reservoir. Furthermore, the period of high streamflow normally coincides with the irrigation season, and much of the excess irrigation water diverted from the river percolates downward to the zone of saturation.
The net measured loss of streamflow in April-June, which averaged about 24,000 acre-feet in water years 1949-62, was about 7,000 acre-feet more than the average annual loss. The estimated net average annual increase of ground water in storage during these months in this period was on the order of 10,000 acre-feet. Following the spring runoff and the irrigation season, normally in July, some of the ground water stored in the flood-plain deposits during the spring runoff begins to discharge into the river. In addition, ground-water inflow from tributary areas again begins to discharge into the river.