The quality of water in the Rio Grande is becoming increasingly important as more surface water is proposed for diversion from the river for potable and nonpotable uses. In cooperation with the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority, the U.S. Geological Survey examined traveltime of the Rio Grande in the Middle Rio Grande Basin to evaluate the potential travel of a conservative solute entrained in the river's streamflow. A flow-pulse analysis was performed to determine traveltimes of a wide range of streamflows in the Rio Grande, to develop traveltime curves for estimating the possible traveltime of a conservative solute in the Rio Grande between Cochiti Dam and Albuquerque, and to evaluate streamflow velocities and dispersion and storage characteristics of the Rio Grande in the entire Middle Rio Grande Basin. A flow-pulse analysis was applied to 12 pulse events recorded during the 2003-05 water years for streamflow-gaging stations between Cochiti Dam and the city of San Acacia. Pulse streamflows ranged from 495 to 5,190 cubic feet per second (ft3/s).
Three points of each pulse were tracked as the pulse passed a station - rising-limb leading edge, plateau leading edge, and plateau trailing edge. Most pulses indicated longer traveltimes for each successive point in the pulse. Dispersion and spreading of the pulses decreased with increased streamflow. Decreasing traveltimes were not always consistent with increasing streamflow, particularly for flows less than 1,750 ft3/s, and the relation of traveltime and original pulse streamflow at Cochiti indicated a nonlinear component. Average streamflow velocities decreased by greater than 30 percent from San Felipe to San Acacia. The expected trend of increasing dispersion with downstream travel was not always visible because of other influences on streamflow. With downstream flow, distributions of the pulses became more skewed to the descending limbs, indicating possible short-term storage of a part of the pulses.