Document Details

An Update of the Death Valley Regional Groundwater Flow System Transient Model, Nevada and California

Donald S. Sweetkind, Michael T. Pavelko, Mary C. Hill, Claudia C. Faunt, Wayne R. Belcher | October 31, 2016
Summary

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has revised the regional-scale Death Valley regional groundwater flow system (DVRFS) numerical model with new data and interpretations since the original numerical flow model was published in 2004 (Belcher (2004); re-published as Belcher and Sweetkind [2010]). Since the original publication of the DVRFS flow model, additional data have been collected and interpretations have been made. Cooperators such as the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Department of Energy, and Nye County, Nevada, recognized a need to update the existing regional numerical flow model to maintain its viability as a groundwater management tool for regional stakeholders. For the purposes of this report, the version of the DVRFS numerical flow model documented in Belcher and Sweetkind (2010) and Faunt, Blainey, and others (2010) is designated as DVRFS v. 1.0. The updated version, as presented in this report, is referred to as DVRFS v. 2.0.

Knowledge of basin water balances and the magnitude of interbasin groundwater flow is the basis for regional groundwater management and water-resource planning in the Great Basin of Nevada (Scott and others, 1971). Rapid population growth, arid conditions, and increased water use have led to development of available groundwater resources. Groundwater use in some alluvial-fill basins has resulted in continued water-level declines and land subsidence. Adjacent bedrock aquifers are increasingly being targeted for additional development. Such groundwater development may potentially impact local and regional water quantity and quality, existing water rights, and wildlife habitats. An understanding of hydrogeologic processes that control the rate and direction of groundwater flow in southern Nevada is necessary to assess the potential effects of any proposed large-scale groundwater development. Potential water-resource conflicts exist because of disparate interests in the region, particularly with respect to the development of groundwater resources to meet agricultural, municipal, and industrial water demand and the need to protect habitat for endangered and threatened species. Water demands in the Amargosa Farms area from agricultural and suburban development, and rapidly urbanizing areas in Las Vegas and Pahrump Valleys place increasing pressure on existing groundwater resources.

In addition, several solar-energy facilities have been proposed within the Death Valley region; water demands for these facilities will vary. Natural groundwater discharge at springs and seeps sustains habitat for numerous species, many of which are threatened, endangered, or otherwise considered sensitive.

In 2004, the USGS documented a calibrated numerical flow model of the DVRFS (Belcher, 2004). The model, DVRFS v. 1.0, incorporated elements of several precursor numerical models but defined the boundaries of the regional flow system slightly different than in previous versions. The model simulates transient groundwater flow conditions in the DVRFS from 1913 through 1998. The report was subsequently revised and published as a USGS Professional Paper (Belcher and Sweetkind, 2010). Since release of DVRFS v. 1.0 in 2004, continued use of the model by cooperators, stakeholders, and interested parties in the region has demonstrated the need to improve specific aspects (such as the flow into northern Yucca Flat and parts of the Amargosa Desert), to update it with more recently acquired geologic and hydrologic data, and to extend the simulation period.

Description

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has revised the regional-scale Death Valley regional groundwater flow system (DVRFS) numerical model with new data and interpretations since the original numerical flow model was published in 2004 (Belcher (2004); re-published as Belcher and Sweetkind [2010]). Since the original publication of the DVRFS flow model, additional data have been collected and interpretations have been made. Cooperators such as the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Department of Energy, and Nye County, Nevada, recognized a need to update the existing regional numerical flow model to maintain its viability as a groundwater management tool for regional stakeholders. For the purposes of this report, the version of the DVRFS numerical flow model documented in Belcher and Sweetkind (2010) and Faunt, Blainey, and others (2010) is designated as DVRFS v. 1.0. The updated version, as presented in this report, is referred to as DVRFS v. 2.0.

Knowledge of basin water balances and the magnitude of interbasin groundwater flow is the basis for regional groundwater management and water-resource planning in the Great Basin of Nevada (Scott and others, 1971). Rapid population growth, arid conditions, and increased water use have led to development of available groundwater resources. Groundwater use in some alluvial-fill basins has resulted in continued water-level declines and land subsidence. Adjacent bedrock aquifers are increasingly being targeted for additional development. Such groundwater development may potentially impact local and regional water quantity and quality, existing water rights, and wildlife habitats. An understanding of hydrogeologic processes that control the rate and direction of groundwater flow in southern Nevada is necessary to assess the potential effects of any proposed large-scale groundwater development. Potential water-resource conflicts exist because of disparate interests in the region, particularly with respect to the development of groundwater resources to meet agricultural, municipal, and industrial water demand and the need to protect habitat for endangered and threatened species. Water demands in the Amargosa Farms area from agricultural and suburban development, and rapidly urbanizing areas in Las Vegas and Pahrump Valleys place increasing pressure on existing groundwater resources.

In addition, several solar-energy facilities have been proposed within the Death Valley region; water demands for these facilities will vary. Natural groundwater discharge at springs and seeps sustains habitat for numerous species, many of which are threatened, endangered, or otherwise considered sensitive.

In 2004, the USGS documented a calibrated numerical flow model of the DVRFS (Belcher, 2004). The model, DVRFS v. 1.0, incorporated elements of several precursor numerical models but defined the boundaries of the regional flow system slightly different than in previous versions. The model simulates transient groundwater flow conditions in the DVRFS from 1913 through 1998. The report was subsequently revised and published as a USGS Professional Paper (Belcher and Sweetkind, 2010). Since release of DVRFS v. 1.0 in 2004, continued use of the model by cooperators, stakeholders, and interested parties in the region has demonstrated the need to improve specific aspects (such as the flow into northern Yucca Flat and parts of the Amargosa Desert), to update it with more recently acquired geologic and hydrologic data, and to extend the simulation period.

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Keywords:

Groundwater Exchange, interbasin flow, modeling