Nevada Water Science Center

Evaluation of Black Rock Desert National Conservation Area

This study is designed to characterize baseline conditions of the hydrology within the BRNCA. Collecting baseline precipitation, spring flow, and water-level data is the initial step for determining how ecosystems in the BRNCA may respond to future hydrologic change. These baseline conditions will be the standard against which effects of climate change and potential groundwater development will be compared. Hydrologic data collected as part of characterizing baseline conditions will be used to support concurrent ecological studies of perennial springs within the BRNCA by DRI.

Research plan

The following data were collected as part of this study:

  • Precipitation: Type, timing and quantity of precipitation was measured at 2 precipitation gages.
  • Springs: Continuous spring flow was collected at 5 springs.
  • Groundwater: Water levels in the surrounding basin were monitored through network of 24 wells.
  • Plant Cameras: Spring sites were equipped with cameras which took a snapshot of the areas surrounding the spring once an hour.

Cane A SpringCane B spring

Cane A (left image) and Cane B (right image) Springs


BRNCA lies within the center of the Black Rock Desert flow system (Harrill and others, 1988), a large hydrographic region of more than 9,000 square miles in northwest Nevada. NCAs are designated by Congress to conserve, protect, enhance, and manage public lands for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations. BLM has the responsibility of managing NCAs. The BRNCA consists largely of arid landscapes, including playas and rugged mountains that provide habitat for wildlife and native vegetation. A critical component of this habitat is the fauna and aquatic ecosystems that are sustained by groundwater discharge at perennial springs.

An important role for the USGS climate change science is the measuring of and describing the hydrologic changes that are currently underway. Unfortunately, minimal historical hydrologic data are available for the BRNCA; most data are from the 1960s-era reconnaissance reports. Therefore, collecting baseline precipitation, spring flow and groundwater data is critical. Spring flows can fluctuate in response to climatic conditions and nearby groundwater pumping.

Antelope North Spring

Antelope North Spring


Antelope South Spring

Antelope South Spring


Cane West Spring

Cane West Spring

Quick Facts


Location: northwestern Nevada

Start Date: 2010

End Date: 2013

Cooperators: Bureau of Land Management, Desert Research Institute

Contact Information


David Smith

USGS Nevada Water Science Center

2730 N. Deer Run Rd.

Carson City, NV 89701

phone: (775) 887-7629




BLM: Bureau of Land Management

BRNCA: Black Rock National Conservation Area

DRI: Desert Research Institute

NCA: National Conservation Area

NWIS: National Water Information System


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page Last Modified: August 22, 2014