Metals Transport in the Sacramento River, California, 1996-1997.
Volume 1: Methods and Data

By Charles N. Alpers, Howard E. Taylor, and Joseph L. Domagalski, editors



Water-Resources Investigations Report 99-4286


Prepared in cooperation with the

Sacramento Regional County Sanitation District

California State Water Resources Control Board

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

U.S. Department of Commerce, National Marine Fisheries Service


Sacramento, California 2001

To view PDF documents, you must have the Adobe Acrobat Reader (free from Adobe Systems) installed on your computer. (Download free copy of Acrobat Reader).

Document Accessibility: Adobe Systems Incorporated has information about PDFs and the visually impaired. This information provides tools to help make PDF files accessible. These tools convert Adobe PDF documents into HTML or ASCII text, which then can be read by a number of common screen-reading programs that synthesize text as audible speech. In addition, an accessible version of Acrobat Reader 5.0 for Windows (English only), which contains support for screen readers, is available. These tools and the accessible reader may be obtained free from Adobe at Adobe Access.

The text and graphics are presented here in Acrobat PDF format (screen print quality). Download the report: Complete accessible report with cover (11.4 MB PDF)


Files optimized for printing (not fully accessible):

Front matter and contents (152 KB) - 10 pages

Text of report (1.5 MB)

Appendix 1 (428 KB)

Appendix 2 (528 KB)

Appendix 3 (764 KB)

Appendix 4 (844 KB)

Appendix 5 (3.9 MB)

Appendix 6 (1.1 MB)

Appendix 7 (1.1 MB)

Appendix 8 (252 KB)


Metals transport in the Sacramento River, northern California, was evaluated on the basis of samples of water, suspended colloids, streambed sediment, and caddisfly larvae that were collected on one to six occasions at 19 sites in the Sacramento River Basin from July 1996 to June 1997. Four of the sampling periods (July, September, and November 1996; and May-June 1997) took place during relatively low-flow conditions and two sampling periods (December 1996 and January 1997) took place during high-flow and flooding conditions; respectively. Tangential-flow ultrafiltration with 10,000 nominal molecular weight limit, or daltons (0.005 micrometer equivalent), pore-size membranes was used to separate metals in streamwater into ultrafiltrate (operationally defined dissolved fraction) and retentate (colloidal fraction) components, respectively. Conventional filtration with capsule filters (0.45 micrometer pore-size) and membrane filters (0.40 micrometer pore-size) and total-recoverable analysis of unfiltered (whole-body) samples were done for comparison at all sites. Because the total-recoverable analysis involves an incomplete digestion of particulate matter, a more reliable measurement of whole-water concentrations is derived from the sum of the dissolved component that is based on the ultrafiltrate plus the suspended component that is based on a total digestion of colloid concentrates from the ultra-filtration retentate. Metals in caddisfly larvae were determined for whole-body samples and cytosol extracts, which are intercellular solutions that provide a more sensitive indication of the metals that have been bioaccumulated.

Trace metals in acidic, metal-rich drainage from abandoned and inactive sulfide mines were observed to enter the Sacramento River system (specifically, into both Shasta Lake and Keswick Reservoir) in predominantly dissolved form, as operationally defined using ultrafiltrates. The predominant source of acid mine drainage to Keswick Reservoir is Spring Creek, which drains the Iron Mountain mine area. Copper concentrations in filtered samples from Spring Creek taken during December 1996, January 1997, and May 1997 ranged from 420 to 560 micrograms per liter. Below Keswick Dam, copper concentrations in conventionally filtered samples ranged from 0.5 micrograms per liter during September 1996 to 9.4 micrograms per liter during January 1997; the latter concentration exceeded the applicable water-quality standard. The proportion of trace metals that was dissolved (versus colloidal) in samples collected at Shasta and Keswick dams decreased in the order cadmium zinc > copper > aluminum iron lead mercury. At four sampling sites on the Sacramento River at various distances downstream of Keswick Dam (Bend Bridge, 71 kilometers; Colusa, 256 kilometers; Verona, 360 kilometers; and Freeport, 412 kilometers) concentrations of these seven metals were predominantly colloidal during both high- and low-flow conditions.

Because copper compounds are used extensively as algaecides in rice farming, agricultural drainage at the Colusa Basin Drain was sampled in June 1997 during a period shortly after copper applications to newly planted rice fields. Copper concentrations ranged from 1.3 to 3.0 micrograms per liter in filtered samples and from 12 to 13 micrograms per liter in whole-water samples (total recoverable analysis). These results are consistent with earlier work by the U.S. Geological Survey indicating that copper in rice-field drainage likely represents a detectable, but relatively minor source of copper to the Sacramento River.

Lead isotope data from suspended colloids and streambed sediments collected during October and November 1996 indicate that lead from acid mine drainage sources became a relatively minor component of the total lead at the site located 71 kilometers downstream of Keswick Dam and beyond. Cadmium, copper, and zinc concentrations in caddisfly larvae were elevated at several sites downstream of Keswick Dam, but concentrations of aluminum, iron, lead, and mercury were relatively low, especially in the cytosol extracts. Cadmium showed the highest degree of bioaccumulation in whole-body and cytosol analyses, relative to an unmineralized control site (Cottonwood Creek). Cadmium bioaccumulation persisted in samples collected as far as 118 kilometers downstream of Keswick Dam, consistent with transport in a form more bioavailable than lead.


Executive Summary


Introduction, by Charles N. Alpers

Description of the Sacramento River Basin and Ongoing Studies, by Joseph L. Domagalski, Peter D. Dileanis, Donna L. Knifong, and Charles N. Alpers

Surface-Water Hydrology


Land Use


Other Land Uses

Ongoing Studies--NAWQA Program

Basic Fixed Sites

Streambed Sediment and Tissue Sites

Study Design: Field and Laboratory Methods, by Charles N. Alpers, Howard E. Taylor, David A. Roth, Daniel J. Cain, James W. Ball, Daniel M. Unruh, and Peter D. Dileanis

Site Selection and Sampling Schedule

Water Sampling

Sacramento River and Yolo Bypass Sites

Tributary Sites

Streambed Sediment and Caddisfly Larvae Sampling

Methods for Sample Collection and Field Measurements

Water Sampling

NAWQA Protocols

USGS's NRP Ultratrace Element Protocol

Streambed Sediment Sampling

Caddisfly Sampling

Sample Processing Methods

Water Sample Processing

NAWQA Protocols

USGS's NRP Ultratrace Element Protocol

Streambed Sediment Sample Preparation

Caddisfly Sample Preparation

Analytical Procedures

Major Cations and Trace Elements

Inductively Coupled Plasma Spectrometry

Atomic Fluorescence Spectrometry

Iron Redox Speciation

Lead Isotopic Analysis



Organic Carbon

Particulate Size Distribution


Streambed Sediments

Quality Assurance and Quality Control, by Howard E. Taylor, Ronald C. Antweiler, Charles N. Alpers, David A. Roth, Terry I. Brinton, Daniel J. Cain, James W. Ball, Daniel M. Unruh, and Peter D. Dileanis

Data Quality Objectives

Major Cations and Trace Elements


Standard Reference Materials

Spike Addition Recovery



Trace Elements in Caddisfly Larvae

Standard Reference Materials

Spike Addition Recovery

Iron Redox

Lead Isotopes

Anions, Nutrients, and Organic Carbon

Particulate Size Determinations

Results, by Ronald C. Antweiler, Peter D. Dileanis, Charles N. Alpers, Howard E. Taylor, and Joseph L. Domagalski

Metal Concentrations in Water

Dissolved Constituents from Tangential-Flow Ultrafiltration

Isolated Colloidal Material

Total Digestions

Sequential Extractions

Equivalent Colloid Concentrations in Water

Total Recoverable Analyses of Whole-Water (Unfiltered) Samples

Conventional Membrane and Capsule Filtration

Metal Concentrations in Streambed Sediments

Metal Concentrations in Caddisfly Larvae

Lead Isotopes in Colloid Concentrates and Streambed Sediments

Anions, Nutrients, Organic Carbon, and Field Parameters

Particulate Size Distribution

Suspended Colloids

Streambed Sediments

Summary and Conclusions, by Charles N. Alpers, Howard E. Taylor, and Joseph L. Domagalski

References Cited


Appendix 1. Quality Assurance Project Plan for the Data-Collection Activities of the Sacramento River Metals Transport Study

Appendix 2. Quality Assurance and Quality Control Data for Chemical Analyses

Appendix 3. Data for Field Parameters, Anions, Nutrients, Organic Carbon, and Sampling Sites

Appendix 4. Metal Concentrations in Water Samples

Appendix 5. Metal Concentrations in Sediment and Colloid Samples

Appendix 6. Particulate Size Distribution in Colloid and Sediment Samples

Appendix 7. Trace-Element Data in Caddisfly Larvae

Appendix 8. Plots of Dissolved and Colloidal Metal Concentrations

Water Resources of California



U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey
Persistent URL:
Page Contact Information: GS Pubs Web Contact
Last modified: Thursday, September 01 2005, 03:32:42 PM
FirstGov button  Take Pride in America button