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The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), in cooperation with the Texas Water Development Board, collected streamflow and water-quality data at USGS monitoring stations in the lower Trinity River Basin from January 2016 to December 2019 to characterize streamflow, nutrients, and suspended sediment entering Galveston Bay from the Trinity River. Results from previous studies indicate that water from the main channel of the Trinity River is diverted into surrounding wetlands and water bodies and is stored or discharged directly into Galveston Bay through distributary channels in the delta. This study provides an assessment of the distribution of streamflow in the various channels that form the delta of the Trinity River to evaluate the effects of streamflow diversions on the eventual supply of freshwater, nutrients, and suspended sediment to Galveston Bay.
Instantaneous streamflow data and continuous streamflow records from USGS monitoring stations in the delta of the Trinity River were used to quantify freshwater inflow into Galveston Bay and assess the distribution of streamflow in the lowermost reaches of the Trinity River Basin. In this report, periods in which releases from Lake Livingston caused a rise in streamflow farther downstream at USGS station 08067000 Trinity River at Liberty, Tex. (hereinafter referred to as the “Liberty site”) that did not exceed 20,000 cubic feet per second (ft3/s) are referred to as “low-flow events,” and periods in which streamflow at the Liberty site exceeded 20,000 ft3/s are referred to as “high-flow events.”
During this study, it was estimated that only about 55 percent of the total water volume released from Lake Livingston was accounted for at USGS station 08067252 Trinity River at Wallisville, Tex. (hereinafter referred to as the “Wallisville site”), which is approximately 8 river miles upstream from where the Trinity River enters Galveston Bay. The difference in water volumes between what is released from Lake Livingston and what is measured at the Wallisville site is consistent with findings from previous studies and indicates that a large part of the volume released from Lake Livingston does not reach Galveston Bay through the main channel of the Trinity River.
To assess the distribution of streamflow and estimate the amount of water diverted from the main channel of the Trinity River into distributary channels, instantaneous streamflow measurements were made at USGS station 08067230 Old River Lake near Wallisville, Tex. (hereinafter referred to as the “Old River Lake site”) and the Wallisville site during a range of hydrologic conditions. Results indicate that a large portion of the freshwater inflow was likely delivered to Galveston Bay through pathways other than the main channel of the Trinity River, including Old River Lake. When streamflow at the Liberty site, located upstream from the Wallisville site, exceeded approximately 40,000 ft3/s, Old River Lake and its network of hydrologically connected channels likely became the primary pathway for freshwater inflow entering Galveston Bay.
Water quality was characterized from discrete samples collected during a range of hydrologic conditions at the Old River Lake site and the Wallisville site in order to evaluate the effects of streamflow diversions on the supply of suspended sediment and nutrients into Galveston Bay. Suspended-sediment concentrations were typically higher at the Wallisville site than at the Old River Lake site, likely because of lower water velocities at the Old River Lake site than at the Wallisville site; low water velocities allow suspended sediment to settle, thus reducing concentrations. Suspended-sediment loads were also typically higher at the Wallisville site than at the Old River Lake site during high-flow events. However, when streamflows at the Liberty site exceeded approximately 60,000 ft3/s, suspended-sediment loads were higher at the Old River Lake, which likely became the primary pathway for suspended-sediment delivery into Galveston Bay.
Suspended-sediment concentrations and loads were computed at the Wallisville and Liberty sites for the duration of 11 hydrologic events representing different streamflows by using the regression equations developed for each monitoring station. Overall, approximately 25 percent of the total sediment load measured during events at the Liberty site was measured at the Wallisville site, indicating that only a portion of the suspended-sediment load from the Liberty site reached Galveston Bay through the main channel of the Trinity River during the measured events. Based on data from discrete samples, some of this sediment load was diverted into Old River Lake and associated distributary channels.
Results from analysis of nutrient samples indicate that streamflow conditions affect the nitrogen concentrations in the delta of the Trinity River. At the Old River Lake site, nitrate plus nitrite and total dissolved nitrogen concentrations were typically lower during low-flow conditions than during high-flow events; low-flow conditions represent low-flow events or tidal-flow conditions (during low-flow conditions the streamflow at the Liberty site was less than 20,000 ft3/s). Lower concentrations of nitrate plus nitrite and total dissolved nitrogen at the Old River Lake site may be associated with various physical and biogeochemical processes, including the transformation and biological uptake of nitrate, nitrite, and other species of nitrogen resulting from extended water residence times and relatively small inputs of nitrogen from the upstream reaches of the Trinity River Basin. During high-flow events, the proportions of nitrogen species were similar among sites, indicating that the travel path through wetlands and channels surrounding Old River Lake likely does not affect the relative concentrations of the various nitrogen species present in freshwater inflow to Galveston Bay.
Results from analysis of nutrient samples also indicate that the pathways for nutrient delivery from the Trinity River into Galveston Bay are dependent on event magnitude. When streamflows at the Liberty site were low (approximately 20,000 ft3/s), the main channel of the Trinity River was the primary pathway for nitrogen and phosphorus entering Galveston Bay. Once streamflow at the Liberty site exceeded 20,000 ft3/s, however, the contribution of nutrient loading through Old River Lake to Galveston Bay increased proportionally to the nutrient loading in the main channel, and when streamflow at the Liberty site exceeded approximately 50,000 ft3/s, Old River Lake likely became the primary pathway for nutrient delivery into Galveston Bay.
Lucena, Z., and Lee, M.T., 2022, Distribution of streamflow, sediment, and nutrients entering Galveston Bay from the Trinity River, Texas, 2016–19: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2022–5015, 55 p., https://doi.org/10.3133/sir20225015.
ISSN: 2328-0328 (online)
ISSN: 2328-031X (print)
Table of Contents
- Streamflow in the Lower Trinity River
- Discrete Suspended-Sediment Concentrations and Loads
- Regression-Computed Suspended-Sediment Daily Concentrations and Loads
- Water-Quality Conditions
- References Cited
- Appendix 1. Supplemental Information
- Appendix 2. Computed and Instantaneous Suspended-Sediment Loads at Selected U.S. Geological Survey Monitoring Stations in the Lower Trinity River Basin During High-Flow Events, 2016–19
|Publication Subtype||USGS Numbered Series|
|Title||Distribution of streamflow, sediment, and nutrients entering Galveston Bay from the Trinity River, Texas, 2016–19|
|Series title||Scientific Investigations Report|
|Publisher||U.S. Geological Survey|
|Publisher location||Reston, VA|
|Contributing office(s)||Oklahoma-Texas Water Science Center|
|Description||Report: vi, 55 p.; Dataset|
|Other Geospatial||Galveston Bay|
|Online Only (Y/N)||N|
|Google Analytic Metrics||Metrics page|