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Northeastern Nevada Landscape and Aquatic Resource Characterization on Federal Lands


Principal Investigators:

  1. Robert K. Hall, US EPA Region IX 75, Hawthorne St. WTR2, San Francisco, CA 94105, (415) 744-1936, hall.robertk@epa.gov

  2. Daniel Heggem, US EPA NERL, Las Vegas, NV, (702) 798-2278, heggem.daniel@epa.gov

  3. Peter Husby, US EPA Regional Laboratory, Richmond, CA, (510) 412-2331, husby.peter@epa.gov

  4. Peter Tuttle, USFWS, 1340 Financial Blvd., Reno, NV, (775) 861-6325, Pete_Tuttle@fws.gov


The Basin and Range Province of northeastern Nevada is dominated by mining and agriculture land use. Impacts on surface water quality and aquatic resources from these land use practices are poorly known especially in areas of ore processing, waste rock drainage, and inactive or abandoned mines. This proposal seeks to define the Nonpoint Source (NPS) loadings to streams and examine their effect on aquatic resources. State of Nevada 305(b) and 303(d) report states Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDL) development for Total Phosphorus (TP) and Total Suspended Solids (TSS) for reaches of the Humboldt River are a high priority. C This project will address NDEP and Nevada tribal concerns in the areas of grazing and mining activities on lands under federal management.

This proposal is a multi-agency effort between the USEPA Region IX, USEPA Office of Research and Development (USEPA and ORD), US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Duck Valley Indian Reservation, Fort McDermitt Indian Reservation, South Fork of the Humboldt River Indian Reservation. Partnerships with the US Forest Service, the US Bureau of Land Management, and the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection will be forth coming. The study area of interest are lands managed by the federal agencies United States Forest Service (USFS) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in the Humboldt River and Snake River watersheds, located in northeastern Nevada. This proposed project will be an add on to the already existing EPA Region IX Humboldt River Watershed Regional Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Program (R-EMAP), which is a regional subset of EPA's Office of Research and Development (ORD) national Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Program (EMAP). The EPA Region IX R-EMAP Surface Water study concentrates on the aquatic resources of an arid environment dominated by mining activities within the Humboldt River Watershed. Objectives of this proposed study is to characterize the habitat and aquatic macroinvertebrates within the Humboldt River and Snake River watersheds, define reference sites and conditions, and develop TMDL's for NPS runoff. This study will be divided into two phases - 1. High elevation, high gradient USFS lands with low grazing impacts; 2. Lower elevation, low gradient USFS and BLM lands with mining and grazing impacts. Each phase can be implemented in sequence or concurrently depending on funding and stakeholder participation. This proposed federal land bioassessment study will be 2-4 year project dependent on funding. If funding requirements are met the study area will be expanded to include federal land holdings in other parts of the state and USEPA Region IX. Future research areas will coincide with the State of Nevada TMDL priority watersheds.

The Humboldt River and Snake River drainage are an area of ecological concern because of the potential impacts of current and proposed anthropogenic activities including extensive mining, agriculture, livestock grazing, land development, water use and timber harvest. This area has seen some of the most intense mining in Nevada history. It is also experiencing accelerated groundwater dewatering in addition to acid mine drainage from older abandoned mines. Surface and groundwater interacting with rocks exposed during mining activity result in the discharge of acidic metal-laden waters. Non-acidic drainage and runoff from mine sites may also contain elevated concentrations of inorganic contaminants, such as arsenic, selenium, and sulfate. Because of the periodic nature of drainage and runoff in this arid region, characterization of mine drainage quality is difficult. Aquatic bioassessment and landscape characterization are cost effective tools to enable characterization of water quality and condition of terrestrial and aquatic biological resources.

The Northern Great Basin Ecoregion in Nevada covers an extensive area, yet very little is known of the water quality and associated aquatic invertebrate communities there. The proposed study will provide a data set that can serve as a basis for evaluating anthropogenic change, and it can substantially increase our knowledge of aquatic invertebrate communities in the Basin and Range ecoregion from data collected from approximately 80 sites over a period of two years. The proposed aquatic bioassessment in the Humboldt River drainage will also provide much needed information on the condition of aquatic resources in the Humboldt River drainage, an area of ecological concern and will establish biocriteria for monitoring perennial streams throughout the state. Additional information on the ecology of aquatic invertebrates in the Basin and Range ecoregion will also be obtained, with insight into how aquatic macroinvertebrate and fish community structure is affected by various physical and chemical parameters. The large scale investigation will also provide information on the biodiversity of aquatic macroinvertebrates in the northern Great Basin ecoregion of Nevada.


Two years of water chemistry and biological sampling have been completed on approximately 80 sampling sites across the Humboldt River Basin. The biophysical data base has been assembled for landscape analyses and the quantification of the landscape indicators will be the next research goal.


The research plan for the Humboldt River Basin study has been peer reviewed and cleared for publication. It is ready for final publication under EPA Report Number EPA\600\R-00\011. Copies should be available on March 17, 2000. A .pdf version of this document will also be available on the LEB Website.


Products will include a fully documented biophysical data base available on CD and the Internet. A report, journal articles and possible an Atlas.


Databases will include a fully documented biophysical data base available on CD and the Internet.


Journal Article: Correlation’s Between Landscape Pattern and Surface Water Conditions in the Humboldt River Basin, Nevada, due 9/00

EPA Report: The landscape Assessment of the Humboldt River Basin, Nevada, due 9/01.

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