Pecos River Basin Salinity Assessment, Santa Rosa Lake, New Mexico, to the Confluence of the Pecos River and the Rio Grande, Texas, 2015

Scientific Investigations Report 2019-5071
Prepared in cooperation with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, and Texas Water Development Board
By: , and 

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  • Document: Report (9.72 MB pdf)
  • Data Release: USGS data release – Water Quality, Streamflow Gain Loss, Geologic, and Geospatial Data Used in the Pecos River Basin Salinity Assessment from Santa Rosa Lake, New Mexico to the Confluence of the Pecos River and the Rio Grande, Texas, 1900–2015
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Abstract

The elevated salinity of the Pecos River throughout much of its length is of paramount concern to water users and water managers. Dissolved-solids concentrations in the Pecos River exceed 3,000 milligrams per liter in many of its reaches in the study area, from Santa Rosa Lake, New Mexico, to the confluence of the Pecos River with the Rio Grande, Texas. The salinity of the Pecos River increases downstream and affects the availability of useable water in the Pecos River Basin. In this report, “salinity” and “dissolved-solids concentration” are considered synonymous; both terms are used to refer to the total ionic concentration of dissolved minerals in water. The sources of salinity in the Pecos River Basin are natural (geologic) and anthropogenic, including but not limited to groundwater discharge, springs, and irrigation return flows. Previous studies in the Pecos River Basin were project specific and designed to address salinity issues in specific parts of the basin; therefore, in 2015, the U.S. Geological Survey in cooperation with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, and Texas Water Development Board assessed the major sources of salinity throughout the extent of the basin where elevated salinity in the Pecos River is well documented (that is, in the drainage area of the Pecos River from Santa Rosa Lake to the confluence of the Pecos River and the Rio Grande). The goal was to gain a better understanding of how specific areas might be contributing to the elevated salinity in the Pecos River and how salinity of the Pecos River has changed over time. This assessment includes a literature review and compilation of previously published salinity-related data, which guided the collection of additional water-quality samples and streamflow gain-loss measurements. Differences in water quality of surface-water and groundwater samples, streamflow measurements, and geophysical data were assessed to gain new insights regarding sources of salinity in the Pecos River Basin and a more detailed assessment of potential areas of elevated salinity in the basin. The datasets compiled for this assessment are available in a companion data release.

The literature review identified several potential sources of salinity inputs to the Pecos River in New Mexico and Texas. In New Mexico, sources of salinity inputs included sinkhole springs discharging into El Rito Creek, the Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge inflow to the Pecos River, inflow from the Rio Hondo, including the main channel and a restored channel at the Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge referred to as the “Rio Hondo spring channel,” the outflow from Lea Lake at Bottomless Lakes State Park, and the Malaga Bend region of the Pecos River. In Texas, sources of salinity inputs included Salt Creek downstream from Red Bluff Reservoir and the area near the Horsehead Crossing ford on the Pecos River.

The compilation of historical water-quality data revealed a lack of consistent sampling of the same constituents at the same sites along the main stem of the Pecos River, which results in data gaps that hinder the ability to effectively analyze long-term changes in water quality that may help with the understanding of how salinity in the Pecos River has changed over time and identifying the sources of salinity in the Pecos River Basin. To help fill these data gaps, water-quality and streamflow data were collected in the study area in February 2015 by the U.S. Geological Survey. Historical water-quality data and newly collected data from February 2015 were evaluated for selected major-ion concentrations, dissolved-solids concentrations, and deuterium, oxygen, and strontium isotopes. Analysis of the data indicated several areas of increasing salinity in the Pecos River. Most notable increases were in two subreaches of the river, between Acme, N. Mex., and Artesia, N. Mex., and between Orla, Tex., and Grandfalls, Tex. Increasing sodium and chloride concentrations from Acme to Artesia coincided with changes in isotopic ratios within the Pecos River Basin. Changes in isotopic ratios in this reach indicate a likely inflow from an isotopically different source of water compared to the water in the main stem of the Pecos River, such as groundwater inflow, inflow from surface-water features distinct from the main stem of the Pecos River, or both. In the subreach between Orla and Grandfalls, an increase in dissolved-solids concentrations was observed along with a shift in isotope values, indicating that neither evaporative processes in Red Bluff Reservoir nor inflow from Salt Creek likely solely influences the salinity of the Pecos River in this subreach. The highest dissolved-solids concentrations in the Pecos River Basin were measured downstream from Grandfalls, where dissolved-solids concentrations are greater than 16,000 milligrams per liter near Iraan, Tex. Changes in isotopic values (deuterium, oxygen, and strontium) indicate mixing of different waters at several areas along the main stem of the Pecos River. The spatial distribution of the areas of interest from the literature review and the water-quality data are available in the companion data release.

Suggested Citation

Houston, N.A., Thomas, J.V., Ging, P.B., Teeple, A.P., Pedraza, D.E., and Wallace, D.S., 2019, Pecos River Basin salinity assessment, Santa Rosa Lake, New Mexico, to the confluence of the Pecos River and the Rio Grande, Texas, 2015: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2019–5071, 75 p., https://doi.org/10.3133/sir20195071.

ISSN: 2328-0328 (online)

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Methods
  • Pecos River Basin Salinity Assessment
  • Summary
  • References Cited
  • Appendix 1. Recommendations From the Literature

Additional publication details

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Pecos River Basin salinity assessment, Santa Rosa Lake, New Mexico, to the confluence of the Pecos River and the Rio Grande, Texas, 2015
Series title Scientific Investigations Report
Series number 2019-5071
DOI 10.3133/sir20195071
Year Published 2019
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Texas Water Science Center
Description Report: xi, 75 p.; Data Release
Country United States
State Texas, New Mexico
Online Only (Y/N) Y