Report Abstract

WATER-QUALITY ASSESSMENT OF THE RIO GRANDE VALLEY STUDY UNIT, COLORADO, NEW MEXICO, AND TEXAS--ANALYSIS OF SELECTED NUTRIENT, SUSPENDED-SEDIMENT, AND PESTICIDE DATA

By S.K. Anderholm, M.J. Radell, and S.F. Richey

This report contains a summary of data compiled from sources throughout the Rio Grande Valley study unit of the National Water- Quality Assessment program. Information presented includes the sources and types of water-quality data available, the utility of water-quality data for statistical analysis, and a description of recent water-quality conditions and trends and their relation to natural and human factors. Water-quality data are limited to concentrations of selected nutrient species in surface water and ground water, concentrations of suspended sediment and suspended solids in surface water, and pesticides in surface water, ground water, and biota.

The Rio Grande Valley study unit includes about 45,900 square miles in Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas upstream from the streamflow-monitoring station Rio Grande at El Paso, Texas. The area also includes the San Luis Closed Basin and the surface-water closed basins east of the Continental Divide and north of the United States-Mexico international border. The Rio Grande drains about 29,300 square miles in these States; the remainder of the study unit area is in closed basins.

Concentrations of all nutrients found in surface-water samples collected from the Rio Grande, with the exception of phosphorus, generally remained nearly constant from the northernmost station in the study unit to Rio Grande near Isleta, where concentrations were larger by an order of magnitude. Total nitrogen and total phosphorus loads increased downstream between Lobatos, Colorado, and Albuquerque, New Mexico. Nutrient concentrations remained elevated with slight variations until downstream from Elephant Butte Reservoir, where nutrient concentrations were lower. Nutrient concentrations then increased downstream from the reservoir, as evidenced by elevated concentrations at Rio Grande at El Paso, Texas.

Suspended-sediment concentrations were similar at stations upstream from Otowi Bridge near San Ildefonso, New Mexico. The concentration and estimated load were nearly two orders of magnitude larger at this station relative to upstream stations. Cochiti Lake allows suspended sediment to settle, thus the resulting concentration is substantially lower downstream from the reservoir. Downstream from Cochiti Lake, concentrations again increased due to inflow from tributaries, other ephemeral streams and arroyos, and agricultural and urban areas. Two ephemeral tributaries (Rio Puerco and Rio Salado, which are south of Albuquerque) contribute substantial amounts of suspended sediment to the Rio Grande. Suspended-sediment concentrations in the Rio Grande just downstream from Elephant Butte Dam decreased by nearly three orders of magnitude due to settling in the reservoir. Concentrations then increased due to agricultural and urban impacts downstream from the reservoir.

Nutrients in ground water in the study unit do not appear to be a widespread problem. However, localized areas that have elevated nitrate concentrations have been documented. The largest median nitrate concentration was found in water from wells located in the Basin and Range-mountains-urban data stratum (3.0 milligrams per liter) and the smallest median nitrate concentration was found in water from wells located in the Southern Rocky Mountains-mountains-forest data stratum (0.08 milligram per liter). Few (3 percent) nitrate concentrations in water from wells in all data strata were greater than 10 milligrams per liter, and most (82 percent) were less than 2 milligrams per liter. Comparison of nitrate concentrations in water from wells located in specific land-use settings across all hydrogeologic settings, with the exception of the Colorado Plateau, indicated that the largest median nitrate concentration was associated with rangeland land use and that larger nitrate concentrations were found in water from shallow wells. Water from wells located in areas of rangeland land use consistently had larger median nutrient concentrations than water from wells in areas of other land uses.

The largest median ammonia concentration was in water from wells located in the Colorado Plateau-San Juan Basin-rangeland data stratum (0.27 milligram per liter). Most median ammonia concentrations were less than 0.03 milligram per liter, indicating that elevated ammonia concentrations are not a major issue in the study unit.

The largest median orthophosphate concentration was found in water from wells located in the Southern Rocky Mountains- mountains-forest data stratum (0.15 milligram per liter) and the smallest was found in water from wells located in the Basin and Range-mountains-urban data stratum (0.02 milligram per liter). Most orthophosphate concentrations (85 percent) sampled were less than 0.2 milligram per liter, indicating that elevated orthophosphate concentrations are not a major issue in the study unit.

Pesticide analyses were available for only 38 ground-water sampling sites in the Rio Grande Valley study unit. Diazinon, at a concentration of 0.01 microgram per liter, was the only pesticide detected and it was detected at only one site. More study is needed to determine if pesticides are affecting ground-water quality in the Rio Grande Valley study unit.

Surface-water biological pesticide data were inadequate for in-depth analysis. The primary sources of data were the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Geological Survey. In the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service study p,p'-DDE, a degradation product of DDT, was detected most frequently; highest concentrations were found at Stahman Farms in carp (6.3 micrograms per gram wet- weight) and at Hatch in Western kingbird (5.1 micrograms per gram wet-weight). In the U.S. Geological Survey study of Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge no detectable organochlorine concentrations were found in plants, but detectable levels of p,p'-DDE were found in coot and carp, with a maximum concentration of 0.12 microgram per gram wet-weight found in coot.

Abstract from Water-Resources Investigations Report 94-4061



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