Nevada Water Resources Research Institute

NWRRI Funded Projects

The following ventures are the most recently funded projects by NWRRI. This work is supported by the U.S. Geological Survey under Grant/Cooperative Agreement No. G21AP10578.

Recently Funded Projects

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NWRRI Undergraduate Internship Immersion Program


According to the Water Resources Research Act of 1984 (as amended) that created the National Institutes for Water Resources (NIWR), each institute is to arrange for research that fosters the training and education of future water scientists, engineers, and technicians. The goal of the Undergraduate Internship Immersion Program is to attract additional students who may not have considered a water-related STEM career. The program will expose college undergraduates to water-related issues and water-related sciences during their postsecondary education, a time when numerous career options remain in play. The interns will gain direct exposure to active research in water-related earth sciences. Exposure of this kind will increase the skill set of the undergraduate students and the possibility that they may pursue careers in earth sciences. The program will pair undergraduate students from Nevada community and state colleges with DRI scientists for a semester-long paid internship. These students will increase their skill sets and be exposed to a variety of career options that might have not been apparent to them prior to their involvement in this program.

Climatic and hydrologic aridification in mid- and high-elevation ecosystems of southern Nevada


Climate conditions and hydrologic processes regulate the functioning and viability of dry forest and woodland ecosystems in southern Nevada. Climate-driven alteration of hydrologic processes toward more water-limited conditions (aridification) is a strong indicator of emergent vegetation dieback and decline. Vegetation decline in this region increases the risk of disturbances, including wildfire, and results in further alterations to hydrologic processes that increase the aridity of natural systems, reduce water quality and quantity, and affect human well-being. Southern Nevada has not yet experienced the widespread vegetation declines that have impacted water resources and ecosystem services in other regions of the southwestern United States, but recent research suggests that these declines are beginning to occur. The proposed work will use existing field instrumentation, detailed ecosystem characterizations, and computational modeling to evaluate climatic and hydrologic aridification for mid- and high-elevation forest and woodland ecosystems in southern Nevada. The first objective of this work will be to use computational land surface modeling to determine to what degree multiple components of regional climate change (long-term meteorological trends, seasonal climate change, and extreme climate events) have reshaped ecosystem water balance processes and partitioning across a diverse set of 26 field-characterized sites in southern Nevada. The second objective of this work will be to identify how the landscape and vegetation structural factors of these sites amplify or dampen climate-driven aridification, identifying the specific characteristics of woodland and forest ecosystems in southern Nevada where emergent ecological declines are most likely to occur. This is critical information for land managers, who can reduce water stress to ecosystems through management interventions but have limited resources and time to do so. Development of outreach to southern Nevada land managers in the form of presentations, meetings, and reports will constitute the third objective of this work. This will help managers identify and prioritize the most vulnerable ecosystems to vegetation decline in their management actions, reducing the effect of ongoing climate change on the hydrology of these ecosystems and the cross-scale hydrologic impacts associated with vegetation decline. In total, this work will develop novel mechanistic insights into the multiple factors shaping aridification in southern Nevada forests and woodlands, and the researchers will work alongside southern Nevada land management groups to improve ecosystem management outcomes and maintain southern Nevada water resources by prioritizing management activities in the most vulnerable forest and woodland locations.

USGS OpenET Planning


The goal of this project is to enhance and work toward operationalizing the use of OpenET, a satellite-based evapotranspiration (ET) based cloud computing and data services platform co-led by DRI, and integrating OpenET data into a national-scale hydrologic model to support the goals of the National Water Census and Water Availability and Use Science Program. The OpenET web application and data services provide equal access to information by all parties, helping stakeholders feel comfortable with the data while promoting a better understanding of the inherent uncertainties with respect to water use and supply planning. The project will further develop and enhance operational software to provide daily ET summaries for irrigated lands for specific watersheds and modeling units. Software for making automated and operational machine-to-machine data queries will be developed and enhanced as part of this project to facilitate the ability for the USGS to operationally download and integrate OpenET data into hydrologic modeling simulations and water-use reports. The specific objectives of this project are to further develop and enhance operational software to provide daily ET summaries for irrigated lands for specific watersheds and modeling units. DRI and the OpenET team will work closely with USGS to continue to advance the SSEBop model, produce 20 years of SSEBop and OpenET Ensemble ET data and summaries for all of the contiguous United States (CONUS), assess the accuracy of ET estimates and new gridded weather data, and evaluate options for long-term collaboration and sustainability of OpenET for operationally estimating and summarizing consumptive water use over all of the CONUS.

Sensitivity of Mountain Hydrology to Changing Climate: Exploring Source Mixing and Residence Time Distributions in Basin Outflows


Across the western United States, rising air temperature, shifts from snow to rain, earlier snowmelt, increased rainfall intensity, and increased interannual variability are changing the timing, intensity, and duration of water inputs (rain, snowmelt) with direct consequences on flood potential, diminished late-season streamflow, and degraded water quality. However, predicting hydrologic response of basin outflows to changing climate remains a challenge in mountainous watersheds where complex interactions occur between snow accumulation and melt dynamics, soil-water partitioning, vegetation water use, recharge, and groundwater circulating to different depths. In addition, the seasonality and steep topography require analysis to be at fine spatial and temporal resolutions. High-performance, physically based, integrated hydrologic models allow for dynamic process representation across these different subcomponents to capture system response to climate perturbation. Recently developed particle tracking codes are used with these detailed hydrologic models to assess source contributions (rain, snow, initial groundwater) and residence time distributions in both evapotranspiration and stream water. The proposed work seeks to use these advanced numerical tools in conjunction with local data, reanalysis products and remote sensing to assess hydrologic vulnerability in Lake Tahoe headwater basins where cascading feedbacks of climate change on snowpack accumulation, water routing, and forest health are already occurring. Vulnerability metrics will describe where and under what climate conditions basin outflows will change in terms of magnitude, sourcing, and residence time distribution (i.e., age). Outflows are defined as streamflow, evapotranspiration, and groundwater discharge to the lake. Research will aid land and water managers in planning for a more sustainable future under climate change. Funding will support an MS graduate student at the University of Nevada, Reno, and build technical capacity in high-performance hydrologic computing at a Nevada institution for use in Lake Tahoe assessment.

Long‐term Effects of Beaver‐related Stream Restoration on Fluvial Sediment Transport


In the American west, stream and riparian ecosystems serve numerous ecological functions. Many of these systems have been degraded by a combination of natural and anthropogenic processes, and we invest heavily in restoration projects to rehabilitate these ecosystems. Beaver-related restoration (BRR) practices rely on the reintroduction of beavers, or the construction of beaver-dam mimicking impoundments, as a tool for restoration work. These practices are attractive because of the low cost and relative simplicity when compared to engineered restoration practices. However, there are numerous sources of uncertainty in BRR practices: Will beavers build and maintain dams? Will artificial structures hold water through peak flows? How long will structures continue to impound water? How many dams will be constructed on a given reach? There are little data available in the peer-reviewed literature to inform best practices or effective regulation. Post-restoration monitoring is expensive and time consuming, and the numerous uncertainties involved in BRR make it difficult to apply results observed at one site to other scenarios. This proposal seeks to address this problem using a numerical model of sediment transport. A numerical model makes it possible to consider variability over a wide range of spatial and temporal scales, dams can be simulated to breach seasonally or to last 10 years, extensive networks of dams can be simulated and contrasted to sporadic impoundments, and the long-term effect of abandoned dams can be simulated. Successful numerical modeling of these systems can be used to inform both best practices and regulation of BRR, improving the effectiveness of future restoration work.

Trace Element Compositions in Spring Waters in Southern Nevada: An Avenue to Train Young Hydrologists in Nevada


Geochemical tracers have been used to constrain important aspects of spring and underground waters, such as their sources, flow paths, and subsurface mixing. During our pilot study, we measured 53 element compositions, ranging from Li to U, in a suite of 18 springs from the Moapa Valley in southern Nevada. Those springs feed the headwaters of the perennial Muddy River that eventually empties the spring waters into the Lake Mead. The initial results show three types of interelement correlations. Type I: some elements are highly correlated with each other, implying a fundamental connection between the sampled springs. Type II: some elements are highly correlated with each other in most studied springs, with the rest being offset from the main trend. Type III: some elements are not correlated with each other, implying multiple sources for those elements.

Encouraged by our pilot study, we propose to simultaneously measure the compositions of 53 trace elements, from Li to U, in over 30 springs in the Moapa Valley and its upgradient valleys using the iCAPTM Qc ICP-MS at UNLV. We will sample those springs in May and September of 2021 to evaluate possible seasonal and annual variations. With a full suite of element compositions in these spring waters, we plan to (1) characterize their compositional endmembers using Principal Component Analysis and estimate the endmember proportions in each spring, (2) constrain their pathways by matching the endmember compositions in springs with those of local bedrocks, and (3) reevaluate their possible subsurface pathways.

The proposed study will prepare one second-year master’s student, two undergraduate students, and a high school student for a career in water resources fields. We will couple this research activity into a summer education program that the PIs are running at UNLV. In this program, students will learn state-of-the-art analytical methods with hands-on experience on ICP-MS and the application of geochemical tracers in hydrology. We will include the students who attend this summer class in our proposed research. We plan to offer this class annually to both undergraduate and graduate students. As such, we will train a considerable number of students who will work in water resources fields. Finally, the proposed study will help two mid-career scientists to utilize hydrology study to foster interdisciplinary collaboration among NSHE institutions.

In summary, we will generate and compile the first complete suite of metal element compositions in a set of springs in the Moapa Valley and its upgradient valleys in southern Nevada. This will allow us to use multiple geochemical tracers to test existing models about the sources and pathways of spring waters. The results will be presented at the Nevada Water Research Association Annual Conference as well as at international meetings, such as the American Geophysical Union Annual Meeting. Eventually, we expect a publication in a peer-reviewed journal. Over the course of the proposed research, several students (including graduate, undergraduate, and high school students) will be trained in hydrologic science.

Strain‐specific Monitoring of SARS‐CoV‐2 in Rural Wastewater Systems


Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) is caused by the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). First emerging in China in December of 2019, this virus has unleashed the worst pandemic since the Spanish Flu of 1918. To date, there have been over 23 million cases and 389,000 fatalities in the United States. As the pandemic has progressed, surveillance of wastewater has emerged as a powerful tool for detecting and tracking viral outbreaks across time and across populations. In late 2020, both DRI and UNLV received Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding to develop scientific infrastructure for tracking of the COVID pandemic. In DRI’s pilot study, several rural and Tribal wastewater systems were sampled and used to develop concentration, RNA purification, and RT-qPCR tools to quantify SARS-CoV-2 in environmental samples. Concurrently, UNLV used over 200 clinical viral genomes from nasopharyngeal swabs to analyze viral genomes from wastewater samples in Reno and Las Vegas, Nevada, and Tucson, Arizona, identifying several unique strains of the virus in the process. Using RT-qPCR and genomic sequencing, the work proposed here combines the capabilities of both groups with the aim of filling in geographic blank spots on the US map of SARS-CoV-2 strain distribution from rural locations. Other project objectives include: (1) identifying the most effective steps in wastewater treatment for removal of this virus, (2) tracking viral abundance over an extended period of time from the Furnace Creek wastewater system in Death Valley National Park to determine which of the major regional strains are present in this very remote location, (3) aiding the National Park Service in managing public health policy, and (4) documenting the predicted eventual decline of the pandemic at a single location. This project has an extensive educational component, which involves undergraduates from Nevada State College, graduate students from UNLV/DRI, and a UNLV/DRI postdoc. The work also establishes new professional relationships between DRI and the Nevada Institute of Personalized Medicine and various water management authorities across rural and Tribal entities of the rural Southwest.

Previously Funded Projects

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View list of previously funded NWRRI projects.

The following projects have all been previously funded by NWRRI.

Degradation of Emerging Contaminants in Treated Wastewater using Immobilized Nanoscale Zero-valent Iron

Evaluation of Antibiotic Resistance Genes (ARGs) in the Urban Wetland Ecosystem: Las Vegas Wash

Improving Wastewater Treatment using Biofilms that Degrade Phenolic and Aromatic Contaminants

NWRRI Website and Newsletter

Wastewater Reuse and Uptake of Contaminants of Emerging Concerns by Plants

Theoretical Analysis of Optimal Groundwater Basin Development

Uptake of Pharmaceutical and Steroidal Compounds by Quagga Mussels in Lake Mead

An 8,000-year Paleoperspective of Hydroclimate Variability in the Southern Sierra Nevada

Assessing Tree to Grass Water Use Ratios: Significance to Urban Water Conservation

Controls on Hydrologic Partitioning, Residence Time and Solute Export in a Snow-Dominated Watershed

DHS Maki Water Green Box

NWRRI Website and Newsletter

GreenPower: Empowering Nevada

Impact of Climate Change on Low-probability, High-risk Flooding Events in the Southwestern United States

Testing the Mortality and Settlement of Quagga Mussel Veliger Under Various Chemical Treatments

Geologic and Seismic Effects of Large Scale Groundwater Withdrawal from Northeastern Nevada Basins

Water Demand and Conservation Modeling with Sub-parcel Level Landscape Characteristics

Optimization of Ozone-biological Activated Carbon Treatment for Potable Reuse Applications

Estimation of Atmospheric Wet and Dry Deposition of Nutrients to Lake Tahoe Snowpack

Quantifying Surface Runoff and Water Infiltration in Arid and Semiarid Areas

Impact of climate on mercury transport in the Carson River-Lahontan Reservoir system and Management Alternatives to Mitigate Response

Measuring Water Use of Tamarisk and Impacts from Biocontrol: Lower Virgin River, NV

Assessment of Resiliency of Las Vegas Water System Under Climatic and Non-climatic Stressors

Effects of Regional Climate Change on Snowpack in Northern Nevada: Research and Education

Quantifying the Impact of Hyporheic Exchange on In-Stream Water Quality in the Truckee River, NV

Partition of Evapotranspiration and Scale Issues in Arid Landscape

Predicting Solar Still Water Production by Using Artificial Intelligence Techniques

Water Quality and Eutrophication Modeling of Lake Mead under Changing Water Levels

Unsaturated Hydraulic Properties of Anisotropic Soils

Black Carbon in Sierra Nevada Snow: Impacts on Snowmelt and Water Supply

Soil Heterogeneity and Moisture Distribution Due to Rainfall Events in Vegetated Desert Areas: Potential Impact on Soil Recharge and Ecosystems

Flood Warning System for the Clark County Wetlands Park

Microbial and Phytoplankton Impacts on Endocrine Disrupting Contaminants

Quagga Mussel Invasion in Lake Mead: Ecological Impact and Containment

Estimation of Spatiotemporal Statistics of Precipitation and Snow-Water Equivalent in the Truckee River Watershed

Uncertainty and Sensitivity of Groundwater Discharge Estimates for the Shrublands in the Great Basin Area

Soil Heterogeneity and Moisture Distribution Due to Rainfall Events in Vegetated Desert Areas: Potential Impact on Soil Recharge and Ecosystems

Modeling Biotic Uptake of Mercury in the Lahontan Reservoir System

Flood Warning System for the Clark County Wetlands Park

Hydrodynamic Modeling of Lake Mead

Microbial and Phytoplankton Impacts on Endocrine Disrupting Contaminants: Las Vegas Wash and Lake Mead, NV

Hydraulic Property Correspondence and Upscaling for Arid and Semiarid Hydrologic Processes

Quantify Wash Load and Fractional Suspended Load Transport in Lake Tahoe

Wash Load and Fractional Suspended Load Transport in Lake Tahoe Tributaries

Development of National Institutes for Water Resources Website for the State of Nevada for Information Transfer

Aggregating Hydraulic Property Measurements to Large Scales and Potential Applications on Water Budget Studies in Arid and Semiarid Environment

Small Scale Variability of Soil Ped Hydraulic Properties: Potential Impact on Soil Recharge and Ecosystems

Development of a Classification System for Natural Impervious Cover in the Lake Tahoe Basin

A Study of Ancient Trees Rooted 120 Feet Below the Surface Level of Fallen Leaf Lake

Quantifying Potential Economic Impacts of Water Quality Modeling Uncertainty for the Lower Truckee River, Nevada

Identification of Nutrient Rich Groundwater Inflows to Lake Tahoe

Assessment of Groundwater Recharge in Mine Altered Regions of Nevada

A Long-term Comparative Study of Golf Courses Irrigated with Reuse vs. Municipal Water

Long-range Water Supply Forecasting for Nevada and the Colorado River Basin


Chuck Russell
Program Director

Suzanne Hudson
Business Manager


Desert Research Institute
755 East Flamingo Road
Las Vegas, NV 89119


Hydrologic Sciences