Physical, chemical, and biological characteristics of Pueblo Reservoir, Colorado, 1985-89

Water-Resources Investigations Report 94-4097

Prepared in cooperation with the Pueblo Board of Water Works, Fountain Valley Authority, Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, Pueblo West Metropolitan District, St. Charles Mesa Water District, and the Bureau of Reclamation



Physical, chemical, and biological characteristics of Pueblo Reservoir are described on the basis of data collected from spring 1985 through fall 1989. Also included are discussions of water quality of the upper Arkansas River Basin and the reservoir as they relate to reservoir operations. Pueblo Reservoir is a multipurpose, main-stem reservoir on the Arkansas River about 6 miles west of Pueblo, Colorado. At the top of its conservation pool, the reservoir is more than 9 miles long and ranges in depth from a few feet at the inflow to about 155 feet at the dam. Pueblo Reservoir derives most of its contents from the Arkansas River, which comprises native and transmountain flow.

With respect to water temperature, the reservoir typically was well mixed to weakly stratified during the early spring and gradually became strongly stratified by May. The strong thermal stratification and underflow of the Arkansas River generally persisted into August, at which time the reservoir surface began to cool and the reservoir subsequently underwent fall turnover. Following fall turnover, the reservoir was stratified to some degree in the shallow upstream part and well mixed in the deeper middle and downstream parts. Reservoir residence times were affected by the extent of stratification present. When the reservoir was well mixed, residence times were as long as several months. During the summer when the reservoir was strongly stratified, reservoir releases were large, and when underflow was the prevalent flow pattern of the Arkansas River, reservoir residence times were as short as 30 days.

Most particulate matter settled from the water column between the inflow and a distance of about 5 miles downstream. On occasions of large streamflows and sediment loads from the Arkansas River, particulate matter was transported completely through the reservoir. Water transparency, as measured with a Secchi disk, increased in a downstream direction from the reservoir inflow. The increase probably was a result of sediment settling from the water column in the upstream part of the reservoir. Secchi-disk depths in December through April were larger than those in May through November. Secchi-disk depths were small between May through August as inflow sediment loads and reservoir biomass increased. In the fall, Secchi-disk depths remained small possibly as the result of resuspension of sediment and detritus within the water column.

Dissolved-oxygen concentrations generally were near supersaturation near the reservoir surface. Dissolved-oxygen concentrations decreased with increasing depth. On several occasions during the summer, dissolved oxygen became completely depleted in the hypolimnion of the downstream part of the reservoir. The most extensive period of anoxia that was measured was in August 1988; the bottom 12 to 30 feet of the downstream end of the reservoir was anoxic. Fall turnover typically resulted in well-oxygenated conditions throughout the water column from September or October through the spring. Values of pH ranged from 7.5 to 9.0 and typically were largest near the surface and decreased with depth.

Dissolved-solids concentrations in the reservoir primarily are affected by dissolved solids in the inflow from the Arkansas River. Concentrations are largest during periods of decreased streamflows, September through April, and decrease with increasing streamflows in May through August. The median dissolved-solids concentration increased from 224 milligrams per liter at the inflow to 262 milligrams per liter at the outflow. However, a statistical analysis of dissolved solids indicated the apparent increase in dissolved-solids concentrations between the inflow and outflow was not significant. Calcium, sulfate, and bicarbonate are the major dissolved ions in Pueblo Reservoir.

Concentrations of the major nutrients, nitrogen and phosphorus, varied within the reservoir because of settling of particulate matter, uptake by phytoplankton near the reservoir surface, and releases from the reservoir bottom sediments. Phosphorus was indicated to be a potentially growth-limiting nutrient in the reservoir because of its relatively small concentrations. During 1986 and 1987, the reservoir retained about 35 percent (359 tons) of the total nitrogen load and about 83 percent (203 tons) of the total phosphorus load. Settling of particulate matter from the water column and uptake by phytoplankton are the major nutrient sinks in the reservoir.

Barium, iron, manganese, and zinc were the major trace elements in Pueblo Reservoir. Traceelement concentrations in the reservoir varied because of seasonality of trace-element concentrations in the Arkansas River, settling of particulate matter, and flux of trace elements from the bottom sediments. The aquatic-life standard in Pueblo Reservoir for total-recoverable iron (1,000 micrograms per liter) and the public water-supply standard for dissolved manganese (50 micrograms per liter) were exceeded on several occasions during the summer. Elevated concentrations of totalrecoverable iron and dissolved manganese in the Arkansas River during summer runoff contributed to exceedances in the upper part of the reservoir. Flux of manganese from the reservoir bottom sediments during periods of low or depleted dissolved-oxygen concentrations contributed to exceedances in the deeper, downstream parts of the reservoir. Concentrations of lead, mercury, and zinc were elevated in the reservoir bottom sediments and may be the result of metal-mine drainage in the upper Arkansas River Basin.

Median concentrations of total organic carbon ranged from 3.1 to 4.5 milligrams per liter in May through September and from 2.5 to 3.5 milligrams per liter in October through April. Totalorganic-carbon concentrations in the reservoir were largest in the summer when streamflows and total-organic-carbon concentrations are largest in the Arkansas River. Total-organic-carbon concentrations in the reservoir decrease downstream from the reservoir inflow because of settling of particulate organic carbon.

Levels of gross-alpha and gross-beta radioactivity generally were relatively low. In 7 of 31 samples collected, dissolved gross-alpha radioactivity, as natural uranium, exceeded 5 picocuries per liter, the level at which additional radiochemical analyses are recommended for drinking-water supplies. Potential sources of uranium in Pueblo Reservoir include weathering of exposed uranium ore deposits in the upper Arkansas River Basin and a uranium milling operation near Canon City.

Phytoplankton densities and biovolumes measured during the winter, spring, and fall generally were indicative of a small to moderate algal biomass. Phytoplankton production tended to be largest during the summer. During the summer, phytoplankton densities and biovolumes generally were indicative of a moderate to large algal biomass. However, excessive algal production and biomass periodically occurred during the spring, summer, and fall. Three species of phytoplankton that are specifically associated with taste-and-odor problems in drinking water were identified on several occasions in water samples collected from Pueblo Reservoir.

Reservoir operations and hydrodynamics can substantially affect processes that affect reservoir water quality. Stratification, underflow, and hypolimnetic withdrawals affect concentrations of dissolved solids, availability of nutrients, and concentrations of metals in the reservoir. Stratification impedes the mixing of epilimnetic and hypolimnetic waters, and the prevalent underflow that occurs during the summer results in a decrease in the potential dilution of inflowing river water with reservoir water. The underflow also decreases the maximum available nutrient load to the euphotic zone, which can, in turn, offset the maximum algal growth potential. Increased dissolved-solids, nutrient, and metal concentrations that occur in the hypolimnion during the summer are partially offset by hypolimnetic withdrawals.

Study Area

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Physical, chemical, and biological characteristics of Pueblo Reservoir, Colorado, 1985-89
Series title:
Water-Resources Investigations Report
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Report: v, 71 p.; 1 Plate: 19.28 x 15.51 inches
United States
Other Geospatial:
Pueblo Reservoir