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Groundwater and surface-water interaction, water quality, and processes affecting loads of dissolved solids, selenium, and uranium in Fountain Creek near Pueblo, Colorado, 2012–2014

Scientific Investigations Report 2016-5134

Prepared in cooperation with Arkansas Basin Regional Resource Planning Group
By:
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https://doi.org/10.3133/sir20165134

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Abstract

In 2012, the U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Arkansas River Basin Regional Resource Planning Group, initiated a study of groundwater and surface-water interaction, water quality, and loading of dissolved solids, selenium, and uranium to Fountain Creek near Pueblo, Colorado, to improve understanding of sources and processes affecting loading of these constituents to streams in the Arkansas River Basin. Fourteen monitoring wells were installed in a series of three transects across Fountain Creek near Pueblo, and temporary streamgages were established at each transect to facilitate data collection for the study. Groundwater and surface-water interaction was characterized by using hydrogeologic mapping, groundwater and stream-surface levels, groundwater and stream temperatures, vertical hydraulic-head gradients and ratios of oxygen and hydrogen isotopes in the hyporheic zone, and streamflow mass-balance measurements. Water quality was characterized by collecting periodic samples from groundwater, surface water, and the hyporheic zone for analysis of dissolved solids, selenium, uranium, and other selected constituents and by evaluating the oxidation-reduction condition for each groundwater sample under different hydrologic conditions throughout the study period. Groundwater loads to Fountain Creek and in-stream loads were computed for the study area, and processes affecting loads of dissolved solids, selenium, and uranium were evaluated on the basis of geology, geochemical conditions, land and water use, and evapoconcentration.

During the study period, the groundwater-flow system generally contributed flow to Fountain Creek and its hyporheic zone (as a single system) except for the reach between the north and middle transects. However, the direction of flow between the stream, the hyporheic zone, and the near-stream aquifer was variable in response to streamflow and stage. During periods of low streamflow, Fountain Creek generally gained flow from groundwater. However, during periods of high streamflow, the hydraulic gradient between groundwater and the stream temporarily reversed, causing the stream to lose flow to groundwater.

Concentrations of dissolved solids, selenium, and uranium in groundwater generally had greater spatial variability than surface water or hyporheic-zone samples, and constituent concentrations in groundwater generally were greater than in surface water. Constituent concentrations in the hyporheic zone typically were similar to or intermediate between concentrations in groundwater and surface water. Concentrations of dissolved solids, selenium, uranium, and other constituents in groundwater samples collected from wells located on the east side of the north monitoring well transect were substantially greater than for other groundwater, surface-water, and hyporheic-zone samples. With one exception, groundwater samples collected from wells on the east side of the north transect exhibited oxic to mixed (oxic-anoxic) conditions, whereas most other groundwater samples exhibited anoxic to suboxic conditions. Concentrations of dissolved solids, selenium, and uranium in surface water generally increased in a downstream direction along Fountain Creek from the north transect to the south transect and exhibited an inverse relation to streamflow with highest concentration occurring during periods of low streamflow and lowest concentrations occurring during periods of high streamflow.

Groundwater loads of dissolved solids, selenium, and uranium to Fountain Creek were small because of the small amount of groundwater flowing to the stream under typical low-streamflow conditions. In-stream loads of dissolved solids, selenium, and uranium in Fountain Creek varied by date, primarily in relation to streamflow at each transect and were much larger than computed constituent loads from groundwater. In-stream loads generally decreased with decreases in streamflow and increased as streamflow increased. In-stream loads of dissolved solids and selenium increased between the north and middle transects but generally decreased between the middle and south transects. By contrast, uranium loads generally decreased between the north and middle transects but increased between the middle and south transects. In-stream load differences between transects appear primarily to be related to differences in streamflow. However, because groundwater typically flows to Fountain Creek under low-flow conditions, and groundwater has greater concentrations of dissolved solids, selenium, and uranium than surface water in Fountain Creek, increases in loads between transects likely are affected by inflow of groundwater to the stream, which can account for a substantial proportion of the in-stream load difference between transects. When loads decreased between transects, the primary cause likely was decreased streamflow as a result of losses to groundwater and flow through the hyporheic zone. However, localized groundwater inflow likely attenuated the magnitude by which the in-stream loads decreased.

The combination of localized soluble geologic sources and oxic conditions likely is the primary reason for the occurrence of high concentrations of dissolved solids, selenium, and uranium in groundwater on the east side of the north monitoring well transect. To evaluate conditions potentially responsible for differences in water quality and redox conditions, physical characteristics such as depth to water, saturated thickness, screen depth below the water table, screen height above bedrock, and aquifer hydraulic conductivity were compared by using Wilcoxon rank-sum tests. Results indicated no significant difference between depth to water, screen height above bedrock, and hydraulic conductivity for groundwater samples collected from wells on the east side of the north transect and groundwater samples from all other wells. However, saturated thickness and screen depth below the water table both were significantly smaller for groundwater samples collected from wells on the east side of the north transect than for groundwater samples from other wells, indicating that these characteristics might be related to the elevated constituent concentrations found at that location. Similarly, saturated thickness and screen depth below the water table were significantly smaller for groundwater samples under oxic or mixed (oxic-anoxic) conditions than for those under anoxic to suboxic conditions.

The greater constituent concentrations at wells on the east side of the north transect also could, in part, be related to groundwater discharge from an unnamed alluvial drainage located directly upgradient from that location. Although the quantity and quality of water discharging from the drainage is not known, the drainage appears to collect water from a residential area located upgradient to the east of the wells, and groundwater could become concentrated in nitrate and other dissolved constituents before flowing through the drainage. High levels of nitrate, whether from anthropogenic or natural geologic sources, could promote more soluble forms of selenium and other constituents by affecting the redox condition of groundwater. Whether oxic conditions at wells on the east side of the north transect are the result of physical characteristics or of groundwater inflow from the alluvial drainage, the oxic conditions appear to cause increased dissolution of minerals from the shallow shale bedrock at that location. Because ratios of hydrogen and oxygen isotopes indicate evaporation likely has not had a substantial effect on groundwater, constituent concentrations at that location likely are not the result of evapoconcentration.

 

Suggested Citation

Arnold, L.R., Ortiz, R.F., Brown, C.R., and Watts, K.R., 2016, Groundwater and surface-water interaction, water quality, and processes affecting loads of dissolved solids, selenium, and uranium in Fountain Creek, Pueblo County, Colorado, 2012–2014: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigation Report 2016–5134, 78 p., https://doi.org/10.3133/sir20165134.

ISSN: 2328-0328 (online)

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgments
  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Methods of Investigation
  • Groundwater and Surface-Water Interaction
  • Water Quality
  • Processes Affecting Loads of Dissolved Solids, Selenium, and Uranium
  • Summary
  • References Cited
  • Appendix 1. Lithologic Logs
  • Appendix 2. Water-quality control data

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Report
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Title:
Groundwater and surface-water interaction, water quality, and processes affecting loads of dissolved solids, selenium, and uranium in Fountain Creek near Pueblo, Colorado, 2012–2014
Series title:
Scientific Investigations Report
Series number:
2016-5134
DOI:
10.3133/sir20165134
Year Published:
2016
Language:
English
Publisher:
U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Reston, VA
Contributing office(s):
Colorado Water Science Center
Description:
viii, 78 p.
Country:
United States
State:
Colorado
Other Geospatial:
Fountain Creek Basin
Online Only (Y/N):
Y