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Water-quality assessment of the Rio Grande Valley study unit, Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas; analysis of selected nutrient, suspended-sediment, and pesticide data

Water-Resources Investigations Report 94-4061

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Abstract

This report contains a summary of data compiled from sources throughout the Rio Grande Valley study unit of the National Water- Quality Assessment program. Information presented includes the sources and types of water-quality data available, the utility of water-quality data for statistical analysis, and a description of recent water-quality conditions and trends and their relation to natural and human factors. Water-quality data are limited to concentrations of selected nutrient species in surface water and ground water, concentrations of suspended sediment and suspended solids in surface water, and pesticides in surface water, ground water, and biota. The Rio Grande Valley study unit includes about 45,900 square miles in Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas upstream from the streamflow-monitoring station Rio Grande at El Paso, Texas. The area also includes the San Luis Closed Basin and the surface-water closed basins east of the Continental Divide and north of the United States-Mexico international border. The Rio Grande drains about 29,300 square miles in these States; the remainder of the study unit area is in closed basins. Concentrations of all nutrients found in surface-water samples collected from the Rio Grande, with the exception of phosphorus, generally remained nearly constant from the northernmost station in the study unit to Rio Grande near Isleta, where concentrations were larger by an order of magnitude. Total nitrogen and total phosphorus loads increased downstream between Lobatos, Colorado, and Albuquerque, New Mexico. Nutrient concentrations remained elevated with slight variations until downstream from Elephant Butte Reservoir, where nutrient concentrations were lower. Nutrient concentrations then increased downstream from the reservoir, as evidenced by elevated concentrations at Rio Grande at El Paso, Texas. Suspended-sediment concentrations were similar at stations upstream from Otowi Bridge near San Ildefonso, New Mexico. The concentration and estimated load were nearly two orders of magnitude larger at this station relative to upstream stations. Cochiti Lake allows suspended sediment to settle, thus the resulting concentration is substantially lower downstream from the reservoir. Downstream from Cochiti Lake, concentrations again increased due to inflow from tributaries, other ephemeral streams and arroyos, and agricultural and urban areas. Two ephemeral tributaries (Rio Puerco and Rio Salado, which are south of Albuquerque) contribute substantial amounts of suspended sediment to the Rio Grande. Suspended-sediment concentrations in the Rio Grande just downstream from Elephant Butte Dam decreased by nearly three orders of magnitude due to settling in the reservoir. Concentrations then increased due to agricultural and urban impacts downstream from the reservoir. Nutrients in ground water in the study unit do not appear to be a widespread problem. However, localized areas that have elevated nitrate concentrations have been documented. The largest median nitrate concentration was found in water from wells located in the Basin and Range-mountains-urban data stratum (3.0 milligrams per liter) and the smallest median nitrate concentration was found in water from wells located in the Southern Rocky Mountains-mountains-forest data stratum (0.08 milligram per liter). Few (3 percent) nitrate concentrations in water from wells in all data strata were greater than 10 milligrams per liter, and most (82 percent) were less than 2 milligrams per liter. Comparison of nitrate concentrations in water from wells located in specific land-use settings across all hydrogeologic settings, with the exception of the Colorado Plateau, indicated that the largest median nitrate concentration was associated with rangeland land use and that larger nitrate concentrations were found in water fr

Additional Publication Details

Publication type:
Report
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Title:
Water-quality assessment of the Rio Grande Valley study unit, Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas; analysis of selected nutrient, suspended-sediment, and pesticide data
Series title:
Water-Resources Investigations Report
Series number:
94-4061
Edition:
-
Year Published:
1995
Language:
ENGLISH
Publisher:
U.S. Geological Survey, [Water Resources Division, New Mexico District] ; USGS Earth Science Information Center, Open-File Reports Section [distributor],
Description:
xiv, 203 p. :ill., maps ;28 cm.