Report Abstract


By Scott K. Anderholm

This report describes the quality of shallow ground water and the relations between land use and the quality of that shallow ground water in an urban area in and adjacent to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Water samples were collected from 24 shallow wells. Samples were analyzed for selected common constituents, nutrients, trace elements, radionuclides, volatile organic compounds, and pesticides.

The study area, which is in the Albuquerque Basin in central New Mexico, was limited to the Rio Grande flood plain; depth to water in this area generally is less than 25 feet. The amount and composition of recharge to the shallow ground-water system are important factors that affect shallow ground-water composition in this area. Important sources of recharge that affect shallow ground-water quality in the area include infiltration of surface water, which is used in agricultural land-use areas to irrigate crops, and infiltration of septic-system effluent in residential areas. Agricultural land use represents about 28 percent of the area, and residential land use represents about 35 percent of the total study area. In most of the study area, agricultural land use is interspersed with residential land use and neither is the dominant land use in the area. Land use in the study area historically has been changing from agricultural to urban.

The composition of shallow ground water in the study area varies considerably. The dissolved solids concentration in shallow ground water in the study area ranges from 272 to 1,650 milligrams per liter, although the relative percentages of selected cations and anions do not vary substantially. Calcium generally is the dominant cation and bicarbonate generally is the dominant anion. Concentrations of nutrients generally were less than 1 milligram per liter. The concentration of many trace elements in shallow ground water was below or slightly above 1 microgram per liter and there was little variation in the concentrations. Barium, iron, manganese, molybdenum, and uranium were the only trace elements analyzed for that had median concentrations greater than 5 micrograms per liter. Volatile organic compounds were detected in 5 of 24 samples. Cis-1,2-dichloroethene and 1,1-dichloroethane were the most commonly detected volatile organic compounds (detected in two samples each). Pesticides were detected in 8 of 24 samples. Prometon was the most commonly detected pesticide (detected in 5 of 24 samples). Concentrations of volatile organic compounds and pesticides detected were much smaller than any U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards that have been established.

Infiltration of surface water and the evaporation or transpiration of this water, which partially is the result of past and present agricultural land use, seem to affect the concentrations of common constituents in shallow ground water in the study area. The small excess chloride in shallow ground water relative to surface water that has been affected by evaporation or transpiration could be due to mixing of shallow ground water with small amounts of precipitation/bulk deposition or septic-system effluent.

Infiltration of septic-system effluent (residential land use) has affected the shallow ground-water composition in parts of the study area on the basis of the small dissolved oxygen concentrations, large dissolved organic carbon concentrations, and excess chloride. Despite the loading of nitrogen to the shallow ground-water system as the result of infiltration of septic-system effluent, the small nitrogen concentrations in shallow ground water probably are due to the small dissolved oxygen concentrations and relatively large dissolved organic carbon concentrations.

The small concentrations and lack of variation of most trace elements indicate that land use has not substantially affected the concentrations of most trace elements in shallow ground water. The relatively large dissolved iron and manganese concentrations in shallow ground water might be the result of the reduced state of shallow ground water, which is due to residential land use. There is no direct evidence that land use has affected radionuclide concentrations or activities.

The presence of synthetic organic compounds (volatile organic compounds and pesticides) in shallow ground water in the study area indicates that human activities have affected shallow ground-water quality. Determining the type of land use associated with the presence of a particular synthetic organic compound in shallow ground water was not possible.

Abstract from Water-Resources Investigations Report 97-4067.


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