Isolated spring wetlands in the Great Basin and Mojave deserts, USA: Potential response of vegetation to groundwater withdrawal

Duncan T. Patten, Leigh Rouse, Juliet Stromberg

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

78 Scopus citations


Desert springs, often the sole sources of water for wildlife and cattle, support wetland and wetland/upland transition ecosystems including rare and endemic species. In the basin and range province in Nevada, USA, springs in the Great Basin and Mojave deserts are sustained by interconnected deep carbonate and shallow basin-fill aquifers which are threatened by proposed groundwater withdrawal to sustain rapidly expanding urban areas, a common problem in arid regions worldwide. This paper draws on historic groundwater data, groundwater modeling, and studies of environmental controls of spring ecosystems to speculate on the potential effects of groundwater withdrawal and water table decline on spring-supported vegetation. The focus is on springs in the Great Basin and Mojave deserts representative of those that may be affected by future, planned groundwater withdrawal. Groundwater withdrawal is expected to reduce spring discharge directly through reduced flows from the shallow basin-fill aquifer or through reduction of the hydraulic head of the deep carbonate aquifer. This flow reduction will truncate the outflow stream, reducing the areal cover of wetland and wetland/upland transition vegetation. Lowering the local water table may also reduce the amount of upland phreatophytic vegetation by causing water levels to drop below plant rooting depths. Percolation of salts to surface soils may be reduced, eventually altering desert shrub cover from halophytes to nonhalophytes. The extent of these effects will vary among springs, based on their distance from extraction sites and location relative to regional groundwater flow paths. On-site monitoring of biotic variables (including cover of selected hygrophytes and phreatophytes) should be a necessary complement to the planned monitoring of local hydrologic conditions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)398-413
Number of pages16
JournalEnvironmental Management
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2008


  • Great Basin Desert
  • Groundwater
  • Hydrology
  • Mojave Desert
  • Salinity
  • Springs
  • Vegetation
  • Water table
  • Wetlands

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Ecology
  • Pollution


Dive into the research topics of 'Isolated spring wetlands in the Great Basin and Mojave deserts, USA: Potential response of vegetation to groundwater withdrawal'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this