The Amargosa River has often been called the crown jewel of the Mojave Desert. Its origins begin in the southern Great Basin desert in Nevada. The river meanders 200 miles, largely underground but surfacing to form life-giving oases near the communities of Shoshone, Tecopa, and through the Amargosa Canyon. It finally winds its way to ancient Lake Manly on the floor of Death Valley at 282 feet below sea level, the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere.
Because of geographic isolation caused by climate change, the river’s oases are the final aquatic refuges for many rare and endangered species that have survived here and speciated over the past 10,000 years. Species include the Amargosa vole, Amargosa Toad, the Amargosa pupfish, speckled dace, Amargosa niterwort, and 250 bird species, including the least Bell’s vireo and southwestern willow flycatcher. Overall there are approximately fifty unique species found only along the Amargosa.
Burgeoning cities across the California-Nevada border have caused overdrawing of groundwater in the Amargosa Valley. The effect is a decreased flow of the Amargosa River, causing negative impacts on this unique and fragile ecosystem and the communities and businesses that depend on it. In addition, the Amargosa River’s sensitive natural and cultural values are threatened by uncontrolled off-road vehicle use.
The former route of the historic Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad provides an ideal hiking route along the river and access to the Kingston Range Wilderness. The river supports several sensitive, threatened and endangered fish and mammal species including the Amargosa pupfish and Amargosa vole. This proposed addition provides opportunities for bird watching. The series of lush springs also support riparian bird species, such as the least Bells vireo and the southwestern willow flycatcher, both federally listed endangered species. Birds listed by the state of California as Species of Special Concern, such as the yellow warbler, the yellow-breasted chat, the vermillian flycatcher, and the Virginia warbler, are also found in the area.
Upstream groundwater extraction to supply the burgeoning suburbs of southern Nevada threatens flows in the Amargosa River. To protect the river against this threat, the BLM should apply to the California Water Board for an instream water right to ensure continued flows in the downstream segments of the Amargosa.
About 26.3 miles of the Amargosa was protected as a National Wild and Scenic River in 2009. Ten years later, another 3.4 miles were added to the upstream end of the river near the town of Shoshone with the passage of the 2019 John D. Dingell Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act.