Water Resources of Colorado

Using Water-Quality Profiles to Characterize Seasonal Water Quality and Loading in the Upper Animas River Basin, Southwestern Colorado

by Kenneth J. Leib, M. Alisa Mast, and Winfield G. Wright

Available from the U.S. Geological Survey, Branch of Information Services, Box 25286, Denver Federal Center, Denver, CO 80225, USGS Water-Resources Investigations Report 02–4230, 43 p., 16 figs.

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One of the important types of information needed to characterize water quality in streams affected by historical mining is the seasonal pattern of toxic trace-metal concentrations and loads. Seasonal patterns in water quality are estimated in this report using a technique called water-quality profiling. Water-quality profiling allows land managers and scientists to assess priority areas to be targeted for characterization and(or) remediation by quantifying the timing and magnitude of contaminant occurrence.

Streamflow and water-quality data collected at 15 sites in the upper Animas River Basin during water years 1991–99 were used to develop water-quality profiles. Data collected at each sampling site were used to develop ordinary least-squares regression models for streamflow and constituent concentrations. Streamflow was estimated by correlating instantaneous streamflow measured at ungaged sites with continuous streamflow records from streamflow-gaging stations in the subbasin. Water-quality regression models were developed to estimate hardness and dissolved cadmium, copper, and zinc concentrations based on streamflow and seasonal terms. Results from the regression models were used to calculate water-quality profiles for streamflow, constituent concentrations, and loads.

Quantification of cadmium, copper, and zinc loads in a stream segment in Mineral Creek (sites M27 to M34) was presented as an example application of water-quality profiling. The application used a method of mass accounting to quantify the portion of metal loading in the segment derived from uncharacterized sources during different seasonal periods. During May, uncharacterized sources contributed nearly 95 percent of the cadmium load, 0 percent of the copper load (or uncharacterized sources also are attenuated), and about 85 percent of the zinc load at M34. During September, uncharacterized sources contributed about 86 percent of the cadmium load, 0 percent of the copper load (or uncharacterized sources also are attenuated), and about 52 percent of the zinc load at M34. Characterized sources accounted for more of the loading gains estimated in the example reach during September, possibly indicating the presence of diffuse inputs during snowmelt runoff. The results indicate that metal sources in the upper Animas River Basin may change substantially with season, regardless of the source.

Table of Contents



Purpose and Scope

Description of Study Area



Mine-Site Remediation


Methods of Data Collection

Water-Quality Sampling Sites

Sample Collection and Laboratory Analysis

Streamflow Regression Models

Water-Quality Regression Models

Model Selection

Trend Analysis

Water-Quality Profiles

Limitations of Data Analysis

Seasonality of Water Quality in the Upper Animas River Basin

Water-Quality Summary Statistics

Water-Quality Profiles

Cement Creek

Mineral Creek

Upper Animas River

Application of Water-Quality Profiling in Mineral Creek


References Cited

Appendix--State of Colorado table value standards for trace metals affected by hardness concentration

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Water Resources of Colorado

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