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U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY
Water-Resources Investigations Report 03-4063

Assessment of Selected Inorganic Constituents in Streams in the Central Arizona Basins Study Area, Arizona and Northern Mexico, through 1998

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National Water-Quality Assessment Program

By David W. Anning

Abstract

Stream properties and water-chemistry constituent concentrations from data collected by the National Water-Quality Assessment and other U.S. Geological Survey water-quality programs were analyzed to (1) assess water quality, (2) determine natural and human factors affecting water quality, and (3) compute stream loads for the surface-water resources in the Central Arizona Basins study area. Stream temperature, pH, dissolved-oxygen concentration and percent saturation, and dissolved-solids, suspended-sediment, and nutrient concentration data collected at 41 stream-water quality monitoring stations through water year 1998 were used in this assessment.

Water-quality standards applicable to the stream properties and water-chemistry constituent concentration data for the stations investigated in this study generally were met, although there were some exceedences. In a few samples from the White River, the Black River, and the Salt River below Stewart Mountain Dam, the pH in reaches designated as a domestic drinking water source was higher than the State of Arizona standard. More than half of the samples from the Salt River below Stewart Mountain Dam and almost all of the samples from the stations on the Central Arizona Project Canal—two of the three most important surface-water sources used for drinking water in the Central Arizona Basins study area—exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency drinking water Secondary Maximum Contaminant Level for dissolved solids. Two reach-specific standards for nutrients established by the State of Arizona were exceeded many times: (1) the annual mean concentration of total phosphorus was exceeded during several years at stations on the main stems of the Salt and Verde Rivers, and (2) the annual mean concentration of total nitrogen was exceeded during several years at the Salt River near Roosevelt and at the Salt River below Stewart Mountain Dam.

Stream properties and water-chemistry constituent concentrations were related to streamflow, season, water management, stream permanence, and land and water use. Dissolved-oxygen percent saturation, pH, and nutrient concentrations were dependent on stream regulation, stream permanence, and upstream disposal of wastewater. Seasonality and correlation with streamflow were dependant on stream regulation, stream permanence, and upstream disposal of wastewater.

Temporal trends in streamflow, stream properties, and water-chemistry constituent concentrations were common in streams in the Central Arizona Basins study area. Temporal trends in the streamflow of unregulated perennial reaches in the Central Highlands tended to be higher from 1900 through the 1930s, lower from the 1940s through the 1970s, and high again after the 1970s. This is similar to the pattern observed for the mean annual precipitation for the Southwestern United States and indicates long-term trends in flow of streams draining the Central Highlands were driven by long-term trends in climate. Streamflow increased over the period of record at stations on effluent-dependent reaches as a result of the increase in the urban population and associated wastewater returns to the Salt and Gila Rivers in the Phoenix metropolitan area and the Santa Cruz River in the Tucson metropolitan area. Concentrations of dissolved solids decreased in the Salt River below Stewart Mountain Dam and in the Verde River below Bartlett Dam. This decrease represents an improvement in the water quality and resulted from a concurrent increase in the amount of runoff entering the reservoirs.

Stream loads of water-chemistry constituents were compared at different locations along the streams with one another, and stream loads were compared to upstream inputs of the constituent from natural and anthropogenic sources to determine the relative importance of different sources and to determine the fate of the water-chemistry constituent. Of the dissolved solids transported into the Basin and Range Lowlands each year from the Central Arizona Project Canal and from streams draining the Central Highlands, about 1.2 billion kilograms accumulated in the soil, unsaturated zone, and aquifers in agricultural and urban areas as a result of irrigating crops and urban vegetation. Stream loads of phosphorus decreased from the 91st Avenue Wastewater-Treatment Plant downstream to the Gila River at Gillespie Dam, probably as a result of adsorption of phosphorus to the streambed sediments. In this same reach, stream loads of nitrogen increased, most likely because of inputs from fertilizers.

The annual mass of nitrogen and phosphorus input to developed basins from quantifiable sources was much larger than the mass input to basins that had little or no municipal or agricul-tural development. These computed inputs exclude the mass of nitrogen and phosphorus from sources such as geologic formations and soils that could not be quantified. The quantifiable annual inputs of nitrogen and phosphorus for the upper Salt River Basin and the upper Verde River Basin were similar to those for the West Clear Creek Basin. This similarity suggests that the small amount of municipal and agricultural development in the upper Salt River and the upper Verde River Basins did not greatly change the basin input flux. For basins with minimal urban and agricultural development, the largest quantifiable source of nitrogen was precipitation, and the largest source of phosphorus was human bodily waste treated by sewer and septic systems. This was in contrast to developed basins, for which fertilizer was the largest quantifiable source of both nutrients. For most basins examined, quantifiable inputs of nitrogen and phosphorus from nonpoint sources were greater than inputs from point sources. This relation emphasizes the importance of land- and water-management policies that protect surface-water resources from nonpoint sources of nutrients as well as from point sources. The amount of nitrogen and phosphorus transpor-ted out of basins was a small fraction of the total for the quantifiable inputs. This result indicated that most of the nutrients input to basins were not transported out of the basins in surface water, but rather were transported to the subsurface (the soil, unsaturated zone, or aquifer), released to the atmosphere (such as volatilized ammonia), or incorporated into the biomass.

CONTENTS

Abstract
Introduction
Stream-property and water-chemistry data
Assessment of water quality by comparisons to regulatory standards
Relation of stream properties and water-chemistry constituent concentrations
Relation of stream loads to upstream conditions
Summary and conclusions
References cited
Appendix 1
Appendix 2


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