Great Sand Dunes National Monument and Preserve is located on the eastern side of the San Luis Valley in south-central Colorado. The monument covers 60.4 square miles in Saguache and Alamosa Counties and lies at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, where a unique combination of climate, topography, and hydrology has created and maintained the Nation?s tallest inland sand dunes. The Sangre de Cristo Mountains, which rise to more than 14,000 feet to the north and east of the dunes, are the source of several streams that flow around the dunes and eventually recharge the aquifer beneath the valley. Sand Creek and Medano Creeks are the largest of the streams in the monument that originate in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains; several ephemeral streams flow into Sand Creek and Medano Creek. Maintaining the high surface-water quality in the Great Sand Dunes National Monument and Preserve is identified as a critical issue by the National Park Service. Additionally, the National Park Service has indicated a desire to pursue an Outstanding Waters Designation, which offers the highest level of water-quality protection available under the Clean Water Act and Colorado regulations. This designation is designed to prevent any degradation from existing conditions (Chatman and others, 1997). Assessment is needed to evaluate whether the water quality of the streams in the monument meets the requirements for an Outstanding Waters Designation. Historically, prospecting and mining activities have occurred in the watersheds of Sand and Medano Creeks; currently, however, there is no mining activity in those watersheds. In addition, the camping and recreation that occur upstream from the monument on national preserve lands and water activities that occur in Medano Creek during the summer are a potential source of human-waste contamination. Figure 1. Location of study area, sampling sites, and indication of sites that meet or exceed instream standards. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), in cooperation with the National Park Service, investigated the water quality at 15 sites (fig. 1) from February 1999 through September 2000 to identify baseline water-quality conditions and to determine if the water met standards to qualify for the Outstanding Waters Designation. This report describes current water-quality conditions in streams in the monument and compares the water-quality data to Colorado instream standards to assist the State of Colorado Water Quality Control Commission in the determination of qualification for Outstanding Waters Designation.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Investigation of water quality in the Great Sand Dunes National Monument and Preserve, Saguache County, Colorado, February 1999 through September 2000: Qualifying for outstanding waters designation