In the harshest desert in North America, it all comes down to water. The reason our region is so unique and irreplaceable is because it is rich with groundwater resources. A vast carbonate aquifer underlies the Amargosa Basin, bubbling forth at springs from the Oasis Valley and Amargosa Valleys in Nevada to the Shoshone-Tecopa corridor to Saratoga Springs and its final journey to Badwater.
Each of these springs harbors the amazing life that has made the Amargosa one of the most biodiverse locations in the Western Hemisphere. The plants and mammals, birds and fish that call these springs home lie in a delicate balance between water and desert. Even the slightest perturbations can substantially alter the spring habitats, and imperil species with the smallest of distributions.
A typical discussion about a watershed will describe the path of surface runoff. But the Amargosa Watershed is much more complex. While the hyper-aridity of the region means that surface runoff contributes a negligible amount to the hydrologic system, we sit on top of an enormous aquifer, and thus groundwater discharge at springs is the primary source of our water.
As a result, we focus on what happens to our groundwater. Where is it going? Who is using it? Are the springs which all life in the Amargosa depends on being affected by groundwater pumping, even at distant locales? These questions must be integrated to every land and water use policy which faces decision-makers in the northern Mojave Desert. A slight change in groundwater levels can have catastrophic effects on our endangered species.