The Amargosa: A river at risk

The Amargosa River, which runs mostly underground over the course of its 180-mile stretch, is a lifeline for the unique and rare species that exist in the fragile habitats where it surfaces. The river stretches through southern Nevada, the Mojave Desert in southern California and winds into Death Valley, regions subjected to a “megadrought” for much of the last 20 years.

Due to its proximity to a nuclear test site and a proposed nuclear waste repository, the aquifer has been intensely studied. Wayne Belcher, a hydrologist with the United States Geological Survey (USGS), analyzed much of the lower part of the underground system. His analysis was later instrumental in designating a 26-mile stretch of the Amargosa into a Wild and Scenic River in 2009, a designation created in 1968 by the U.S. Congress to preserve rivers in their free-flowing condition.

It is believed that 10,000 years ago, present-day Nevada was rich with lakes and streams. As these waters receded, the wildlife, flora, and fauna became more isolated. Over time, they evolved into distinct and unique species making the region abundant with numerous rare and endangered lifeforms.

Today, the Amargosa River and its various habitats are threatened by the effects of warming temperatures and are being decimated by groundwater extraction. Observers warn that this practice is unsustainable and that reservoirs will be depleted unless current standards are modified.

For further exploration:

National Geographic article on Amargosa River

USA Today article on Megadrought

USGS Amargosa Research Site