The Central Arizona Basins study area in central and southern Arizona and northern Mexico is one of 60 study units that are part of the U.S. Geological Survey's National Water-Quality Assessment program. The purpose of this report is to describe the physical, chemical, and environmental characteristics that may affect water quality in the Central Arizona Basins study area and present an overview of water quality. Covering 34,700 square miles, the study area is characterized by generally north to northwestward-trending mountain ranges separated by broad, gently sloping alluvial valleys. Most of the perennial rivers and streams are in the northern part of the study area. Rivers and streams in the south are predominantly intermittent or ephemeral and flow in response to precipitation such as summer thunderstorms. Effluent-dependent streams do provide perennial flow in some reaches. The major aquifers in the study area are in the basin-fill deposits that may be as much as 12,000 feet thick.
The 1990 population in the study area was about 3.45 million, and about 61 percent of the total was in Maricopa County (Phoenix and surrounding cities). Extensive population growth over the past decade has resulted in a twofold increase in urban land areas and increased municipal water use; however, agriculture remains the major water use. Seventy-three percent of all water with drawn in the study area during 1990 was used for agricultural purposes.
The largest rivers in the study area-the Gila, Salt, and Verde-are perennial near their headwaters but become intermittent downstream because of impoundments and artificial diversions. As a result, the Central Arizona Basins study area is unique compared to less arid basins because the mean surface-water outflow is only 528 cubic feet per second from a total drainage area of 49,650 square miles. Peak flows in the northern part of the study area are the result of snowmelt runoff; whereas, summer thunderstorms account for the peak flows in the southern part. Ground water is the primary water supply in most of Arizona and the only source of drinking water used by communities in the southern half of the study area. Years of overpumping have caused water tables in basin fill to drop below once-perennial streams leaving streambeds dry, water too deep to pump economically, pumping of poorer quality water with depth, and earth fissures resulting from subsidence after dewatering of sediments.
Natural processes-such as leaching of trace elements and major ions from geologic formations-and human activities-such as mining, agriculture, and urban development-have major effects on the quality of surface-water and ground-water resources in the Central Arizona Basins study area. Surface-water quality standards in Arizona are based on the designated use of the water such as full or partial body contact, fish consumption, aquatic and wildlife uses, and agriculture. Maintaining the biological integrity (health) of surface waters in Arizona is an important part of ensuring that these waters are suitable for designated uses.
Important water-quality issues for surface water that are somewhat unique to Arizona include: (1) streamflows and riparian environments sustained by effluent from municipal wastewater-treatment plants that contains high concentrations of nutrients, potentially toxic trace elements and organic compounds, and fecal bacteria; (2) industrial, mining, agricultural, and municipal sources of contamination from Mexico; and (3) unpredictable high flows from major summer thunder storms causing stream-channel changes; high suspended-sediment concentrations and loads; sewage overflows; and breaching, erosion, and washout of landfills and mining operations.
The quality of water in aquifers that are protected for drinking- water use is subject to standards that are in most cases equal to or more stringent than the primary drinking-water regulations of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The general che
Additional Publication Details
USGS Numbered Series
Water-quality assessment of the Central Arizona Basins, Arizona and northern Mexico; environmental setting and overview of water quality
Water-Resources Investigations Report
U.S. Dept. of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey ;
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