Assessment of water quality, road runoff, and bulk atmospheric deposition, Guanella Pass area, Clear Creek and Park Counties, Colorado, water years 1995-97

Water-Resources Investigations Report 2000-4186




The Guanella Pass road, located about 40 miles west of Denver, Colorado, between the towns of Georgetown and Grant, has been designated a scenic byway and is being considered for reconstruction. The purpose of this report is to present an assessment of hydrologic and water-quality conditions in the Guanella Pass area and provide baseline data for evaluation of the effects of the proposed road reconstruction. The data were collected during water years 1995-97 (October 1, 1995, to September 30, 1997).Based on Colorado water-quality standards, current surface-water quality near Guanella Pass road was generally acceptable for specified use classifications of recreation, water supply, agriculture, and aquatic life. Streams had small concentrations of dissolved solids, nutrients, trace elements, and suspended sediment. An exception was upper Geneva Creek, which was acidic and had relatively large concentrations of iron, zinc, and other trace elements related to acid-sulfate weathering. Concentrations of many water-quality constituents, especially particle-related phases and suspended sediment, increased during peak snowmelt and rainstorm events and decreased to prerunoff concentrations at the end of runoff periods. Some dissolved (filtered) trace-element loads in Geneva Creek decreased during rainstorms when total recoverable loads remained generally static or increased, indicating a phase change that might be explained by adsorption of trace elements to suspended sediment during storm runoff.Total recoverable iron and dissolved zinc exceeded Colorado stream-water-quality standards most frequently. Exceedances for iron generally occurred during periods of high suspended-sediment transport in several streams. Zinc standards were exceeded in about one-half the samples collected in Geneva Creek 1.5 miles upstream from Grant.Lake-water quality was generally similar to that of area streams. Nitrogen and phosphorus ratios calculated for Clear and Duck Lakes indicated that phytoplankton in the lakes were probably phosphorus-limited. Measures of trophic status (secchi depth, total phosphorus, and chlorophyll-a) indicated that Duck and Clear Lakes were oligotrophic in 1997.Ground water had relatively low specific conductance (range 24 to 584 microsiemens per centimeter) and did not exceed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency drinking-water standards, except for samples collected from a single well, which exceeded the Proposed Maximum Contaminant Level for uranium.Runoff from the Guanella Pass road enters streams through surface channels connected to culverts and roadside ditches. Fifty-six percent of the total number of culvert and roadside-ditch drainage features on the Guanella Pass road showed evidence of recent surface runoff connection to an adjacent stream. Road runoff is generated during snowmelt and during summer rainstorms.At a road cross-drain culvert monitored continuously for discharge (water years 1996-97), most runoff (77 to 96 percent) was a result of snowmelt, and runoff from the road preceded the basinwide peak streamflow, resulting in sediment and water-quality constituent inputs to the stream when the stream?s capacity for dilution of the road runoff was low. Specific conductance of road-runoff samples ranged from 14 to 468 microsiemens per centimeter. Major-ion composition of some samples indicated effects from deicing salt (sodium chloride) and dust inhibitor (magnesium chloride) applied to sections of the road, but changes in the stream concentrations that might be attributed to the runoff were brief and relatively small.Nutrients were commonly measured in road-runoff samples at larger concentrations than in streamflow. Concentrations of nitrate and ammonia, especially during rainfall-generated road runoff, were more similar to the concentrations in precipitation than to the concentrations in stream water. Concentrations of ammonia plus organic nitrogen (total as N) (range less than 0.2 to 24 milligrams per liter) and t

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Assessment of water quality, road runoff, and bulk atmospheric deposition, Guanella Pass area, Clear Creek and Park Counties, Colorado, water years 1995-97
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Water-Resources Investigations Report
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viii, 183 p. : ill. (some col.), maps ; 28 cm.; 50 figs.