Water-quality assessment of the Trinity River Basin, Texas - Analysis of available information on nutrients and suspended sediment, 1974-91

Water-Resources Investigations Report 94-4086




The U.S. Geological Survey is conducting an assessment of water quality in the Trinity River Basin as part of the National Water-Quality Assessment Program. During the planning phase of this study, existing information on nutrients and suspended sediment was compiled and analyzed. A total of about 5,700 water-quality samples were analyzed from local, State, and Federal agencies. Of these, about 4,200 were from streams and about 1,500 were from wells. Additionally, atmospheric deposition data for two locations were obtained and analyzed.

Spatial variations in nutrient concentrations in streams are related primarily to point sources and reservoirs. Median total nitrogen concentrations downstream from major point sources, downstream from reservoirs, and on tributaries were 6.0, 1.3, and 2.4 milligrams per liter, respectively. Median total phosphorus concentrations for the same three settings were 1.6, O. 1, and 0.2 milligrams per liter, respectively. The largest concentrations occurred at low flow downstream from Dallas, Texas, when streamflow dominated by treated wastewater from point sources. The smallest concentrations occurred immediately downstream from reservoirs, which act as sinks for nutrients. Nutrient concentrations in agricultural areas were positively correlated to percent of drainage in agricultural land use and to discharge, indicating washoff of nutrients from nonpoint sources during storms.

As with concentrations, nutrient loads were related to the presence of point sources and reservoirs. Loads increased substantially in the Dallas-Fort Worth area with the addition of nutrients from point sources; loads decreased substantially as flow passed through Livingston Reservoir.

Concentrations of total nitrogen and total phosphorus did not change significantly, at the 95 percent confidence level, from 1974 to 1991 at most sites. The exception was a decrease in phosphorus concentrations at two sites downstream from major wastewater-treatment plants in the Dallas area. Concentrations of organic nitrogen and ammonia declined and concentrations of nitrite plus nitrate increased at sites below major wastewater-treatment plants. These changes are indicative of improvements in wastewater treatment that converts organic nitrogen and ammonia to nitrite and finally nitrate. Because nitrogen conversion reactions consume oxygen, the occurrence of these reactions at the treatment plants instead of in the streams resulted in reduced loading of biochemical oxygen demand to the streams.

The only nutrient measured in ground water was nitrate. Nitrate concentrations varied by aquifer with the largest median concentrations in the Queen City and Nacatoch aquifers. There was a significant rank correlation between nitrate concentrations and depth of well for all seven aquifer groups sampled, with largest concentrations present in shallow wells. The large concentrations could result from nonpoint sources of nitrate associated with agricultural and urban land use; however, attempts to correlate nitrogen fertilizer application rates and agricultural land use to concentrations of nitrate in ground water were inconclusive.

Only limited suspended-sediment data were available. Four sites had daily sediment-discharge records for three or more water years (October 1 to September 30) between 1974 and 1985. An additional three sites had periodic measurements of suspended-sediment concentrations. There are differences in concentrations and yields among sites; however, the limited amount of data precludes developing statistical or cause-and-effect relations with environmental factors such as land use, soil, and geology. Data are sufficient, and the relation is pronounced enough, to indicate trapping of suspended sediment by Livingston Reservoir.

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Water-quality assessment of the Trinity River Basin, Texas - Analysis of available information on nutrients and suspended sediment, 1974-91
Series title:
Water-Resources Investigations Report
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Austin, TX
Contributing office(s):
Texas Water Science Center
vii, 71 p.
United States
Other Geospatial:
Trinity River Basin
Online Only (Y/N):
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