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Impacts of water management actions on TDS concentrations in a terminal lake; Walker Lake, Nevada



Impacts of water management actions on TDS concentrations in a terminal lake; Walker Lake, Nevada



Abstracts with Programs - Geological Society of America 32(7): 499



Throughout much of the western United States many ecological problems have arisen in watersheds where a significant portion of stream flows are diverted to support agriculture. Within a closed basin, these problems are magnified due to the cumulative effect that reduced stream flows have on the condition of a lake at the stream's terminus. The concern in many of these lakes is an accelerating increase in the concentration of total dissolved solids (TDS). The ecological consequences of increased TDS concentrations can be as limited as the intermittent disruption of productive fisheries, or as drastic as a complete collapse of the lake's ecosystem. The diversion of stream flows results in the evaporation of water from the terminal lake exceeding its inflow. This results in a net loss of water in the lake, while the total mass of TDS stays relatively constant, resulting in an increase in the lake's TDS concentration. A watershed where increasing TDS concentrations have reached a critical level is the Walker Lake watershed, located on the eastern slope of the central Sierra Nevada range. The watershed has an area of 10,400 sq. km, with average annual headwater flows and stream flow diversions of 376 million cu. m/yr and 370 million cu. m/yr, respectively. These diversions have resulted in the volume of Walker Lake decreasing from 11.1 cu. km in 1882 to 3.05 cu. km at the present time. The resulting rise in TDS concentration has been from 2,560 mg/l in 1882 to a high of 13,600 mg/l in 1994. Changes in water management practices over the last century have contributed to this problem in varying degrees. These changes include the construction of reservoirs in the 1920s, the pumpage of shallow groundwater for irrigation in the 1960s and the implementation of high efficiency agricultural practices in the 1980s. This paper will examine the impacts that each of these actions has had on stream flow in the Walker River, and ultimately the TDS concentration in Walker Lake.

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