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Hydrologic conditions and water quality in an agricultural area in Kleberg and Nueces Counties, Texas, 1996-98

Water-Resources Investigations Report 2001-4101

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Abstract

During 1996?98, rainfall and runoff were monitored on a 49,680-acre agricultural watershed in Kleberg and Nueces Counties in South Texas. Nineteen rainfall samples were analyzed for selected nutrients, and runoff samples from 29 storms were analyzed for major ions, nutrients, and pesticides. Loads of nutrients in rainfall and loads of nutrients and pesticides in runoff were computed. For a 40,540-acre part of the watershed (lower study area), constituent loads entering the watershed in rainfall, in runoff from the upper study area, and from agricultural chemical applications to the lower study area were compared with runoff loads exiting the lower study area. Total rainfall for 1996?98 averaged 25.86 inches per year, which is less than the long-term annual average rainfall of 29.80 inches for the area. Rainfall and runoff during 1996?98 were typical of historical patterns, with periods of below average rainfall and runoff interspersed with extreme events. Five individual storms accounted for about 38 percent of the total rainfall and 94 percent of the total runoff. During the 3-year study, the total nitrogen runoff yield from the lower study area was 1.3 pounds per acre per year, compared with 49 pounds per acre per year applied as fertilizer and 3.1 pounds per acre per year from rainfall. While almost all of the fertilizer and rainfall nitrogen was ammonia and nitrate, most of the nitrogen in runoff was particulate organic nitrogen, associated with crop residue. Total nitrogen exiting the lower study area in surface-water runoff was about 2.5 percent of the nitrogen inputs (fertilizer and rainfall nitrogen). Annual deposition of total nitrogen entering the lower study area in rainfall exceeded net yields of total nitrogen exiting the watershed in runoff because most of the rainfall does not contribute to runoff. During the study, the total phosphorus runoff yield from the lower study area was 0.48 pound per acre per year compared with 4.2 pounds per acre per year applied as fertilizer and 0.03 pound per acre per year from rainfall. Twenty-one pesticides were detected in runoff with varying degrees of frequency during the study. The herbicide atrazine was detected in all runoff samples. All of the most frequently detected pesticides (atrazine, trifluralin, simazine, pendimethalin, and diuron) exhibited higher concentrations during the pre-harvest period (March? May) than during the post-harvest period (August? October). During 1996?98, an average of 0.37 pound per acre per year of atrazine was applied to the lower study area. During the same period, 0.0027 pound per acre per year of atrazine and its breakdown product deethylatrazine exited the lower study area in runoff (about 0.7 percent of the total atrazine applied to the cropland). During 1997, when heavy rainfall occurred during the months of April and May, the atrazine plus deethylatrazine exiting the lower study area was 1.8 percent of the applied atrazine. The 1996?98 average sediment yield was 610 pounds per acre per year. Sediment loads from the study area are associated with large storm events. Of the 45,300 tons of sediment transported from the study area during 1996?98 about 87 percent was transported during the three largest runoff events (April 1997, October 1997, and October 1998). Runoff-weighted average concentrations were computed for selected nutrients and pesticides. The 1996?98 runoff-weighted concentrations for total nitrogen and total phosphorus were 1.3 and 0.50 milligrams per liter, respectively. The 1996?98 runoff-weighted concentration for atrazine plus deethylatrazine was 2.7 micrograms per liter.

Additional Publication Details

Publication type:
Report
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Title:
Hydrologic conditions and water quality in an agricultural area in Kleberg and Nueces Counties, Texas, 1996-98
Series title:
Water-Resources Investigations Report
Series number:
2001-4101
Edition:
-
Year Published:
2001
Language:
ENGLISH
Description:
1 v. (various pagings) : ill., col. maps ; 28 cm.