USGS

Water Resources of Colorado

Analysis of Ground-Water-Quality Data of the Upper Colorado River Basin, Water Years 1972-92

by Lori E. Apodaca

Available from the U.S. Geological Survey, Branch of Information Services, Box 25286, Denver Federal Center, Denver, CO 80225, USGS Water-Resources Investigations Report 97–4240, 31 p., 10 figs.

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Abstract

As part of the U.S. Geological Survey's National Water-Quality Assessment program, an analysis of the existing ground-water-quality data in the Upper Colorado River Basin study unit is necessary to provide information on the historic water-quality conditions. Analysis of the historical data provides information on the availability or lack of data and water-quality issues. The information gathered from the historical data will be used in the design of ground-water-quality studies in the basin. This report includes an analysis of the ground-water data (well and spring data) available for the Upper Colorado River Basin study unit from water years 1972 to 1992 for major cations and anions, metals and selected trace elements, and nutrients. The data used in the analysis of the ground-water quality in the Upper Colorado River Basin study unit were predominantly from the U.S. Geological Survey National Water Information System and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment data bases. A total of 212 sites representing alluvial aquifers and 187 sites representing bedrock aquifers were used in the analysis. The available data were not ideal for conducting a comprehensive basinwide water-quality assessment because of lack of sufficient geographical coverage.

Evaluation of the ground-water data in the Upper Colorado River Basin study unit was based on the regional environmental setting, which describes the natural and human factors that can affect the water quality. In this report, the ground-water-quality information is evaluated on the basis of aquifers or potential aquifers (alluvial, Green River Formation, Mesaverde Group, Mancos Shale, Dakota Sandstone, Morrison Formation, Entrada Sandstone, Leadville Limestone, and Precambrian) and land-use classifications for alluvial aquifers.

Most of the ground-water-quality data in the study unit were for major cations and anions and dissolved-solids concentrations. The aquifer with the highest median concentrations of major ions was the Mancos Shale. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency secondary maximum contaminant level of 500 milligrams per liter for dissolved solids in drinking water was exceeded in about 75 percent of the samples from the Mancos Shale aquifer. The guideline by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United States for irrigation water of 2,000 milligrams per liter was also exceeded by the median concentration from the Mancos Shale aquifer. For sulfate, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed maximum contaminant level of 500 milligrams per liter for drinking water was exceeded by the median concentration for the Mancos Shale aquifer. A total of 66 percent of the sites in the Mancos Shale aquifer exceeded the proposed maximum contaminant level.

Metal and selected trace-element data were available for some sites, but most of these data also were below the detection limit. The median concentrations for iron for the selected aquifers and land-use classifications were below the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency secondary maximum contaminant level of 300 micrograms per liter in drinking water. Median concentration of manganese for the Mancos Shale exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency secondary maximum contaminant level of 50 micrograms per liter in drinking water. The highest selenium concentrations were in the alluvial aquifer and were associated with rangeland. However, about 22 percent of the selenium values from the Mancos Shale exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency maximum contaminant level of 50 micrograms per liter in drinking water.

Few nutrient data were available for the study unit. The only nutrient species presented in this report were nitrate-plus-nitrite as nitrogen and orthophosphate. Median concentrations for nitrate-plus-nitrite as nitrogen were below the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency maximum contaminant level of 10 milligrams per liter in drinking water except for 0.02 percent of the sites in the alluvial aquifer and 0.03 percent of the sites in the Mancos Shale. Concentrations of orthophosphate did not vary significantly among aquifers or land-use classifications.

Historic water-quality data from wells and springs helped to characterize the regional distribution of ground-water quality information in the Upper Colorado River Basin study unit. The historical ground-water data summarized in this report will be used in the design of a ground-water-quality network. Because ground-water-quality issues in the study unit are related to high dissolved solids, sulfate, selenium, and nutrients, this report discusses some of the important findings related to these issues.


Table of Contents

Foreword

Abstract

Introduction

Purpose and Scope

Acknowledgments

Description of the Upper Colorado River Basin Study Unit

Sources of Available Ground-Water-Quality Data

Data-Selection Criteria and Screening Procedures

Ground-Water Quality

Major Cations and Anions

Description of Ground-Water-Quality Data

Water Composition of Major Aquifers

Concentrations in Ground Water

Metals and Selected Trace Elements

Description of Ground-Water-Quality Data

Concentrations in Ground Water

Nutrients

Description of Ground-Water-Quality Data

Concentrations in Ground Water

Summary

References Cited

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