Geochemical Assessment of the Hueco Bolson, New Mexico and Texas, 2016–17

Scientific Investigations Report 2020-5056
By: , and 



Understanding groundwater quality in transboundary aquifers like the Hueco Bolson is important for the 2.7 million people along the United States and Mexico border living in and near the combined metropolitan areas of Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, and El Paso, Texas, who rely on groundwater for water supply. To better understand water-quality conditions in the Mexico–New Mexico–Texas transboundary area, 23 water-supply wells were sampled in the Hueco Bolson within the United States near El Paso, Tex., during August–September 2016 and May–June 2017. Groundwater samples were analyzed for physical properties, major ions, dissolved solids, nutrients, trace elements, organic compounds, and selected isotopes such as strontium, hydrogen, oxygen, tritium, and carbon-14.

Most of the water samples from the Hueco Bolson water-supply wells were classified as a sodium-chloride type water. Only four wells sampled in the study area had dissolved-solids concentrations greater than 1,000 milligrams per liter (mg/L), with three of those wells closest to the Rio Grande/Río Bravo del Norte (hereinafter referred to as the Rio Grande).

Nitrate concentrations in the groundwater samples collected in the study area ranged from below the long-term method detection level of 0.04 to 6.2 mg/L. Arsenic was the only trace element detected in the wells sampled that had concentrations exceeding the designated drinking-water standard of 10 micrograms per liter (μg/L). Four of the 23 wells had arsenic concentrations greater than 10 μg/L, and these wells were all located near the Rio Grande. Three of the wells with the highest uranium concentrations (greater than 10 μg/L) were also located near the Rio Grande, and two of those wells were the same wells that had arsenic concentrations greater than 10 μg/L. Groundwater samples were analyzed for 83 organic compounds, but only 6 were detected—simazine, prometryn, prometon, atrazine, deethylatrazine, and dichloroaniline. All concentrations for the organic compounds detected were less than 0.03 μg/L, and the detections were only in five groundwater wells, three of which were located near the Rio Grande.

Strontium, hydrogen, and oxygen isotopic values indicate that recharge water to the central and northern sections of the study area originates from near the Franklin Mountains, whereas groundwater in the southern section of the study area is likely from the Rio Grande valley. Tritium and carbon-14 values indicate that most of the wells that were sampled contained water that is considered premodern, which means that it is more than several hundred years old. Three wells with modern groundwater (approximately less than 70 years old) are located near the Rio Grande and are the same wells that had elevated arsenic or uranium concentrations and organic compound detections. Most of the results of the geochemical analyses indicate that groundwater near the Rio Grande has higher dissolved-solids concentrations, higher concentrations of several trace elements, and slightly more organic compound detections than the groundwater farther away from the Rio Grande; therefore, the groundwater may be affected by the Rio Grande and surrounding land-use activities.

Suggested Citation

Ging, P.B., Humberson, D.G., and Ikard, S.J., 2020, Geochemical assessment of the Hueco Bolson, New Mexico and Texas, 2016–17: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2020–5056, 30 p.,

ISSN: 2328-0328 (online)

ISSN: 2328-031X (print)

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgments
  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Sample Collection and Analysis
  • Geochemical Assessment
  • Summary
  • References Cited
Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Geochemical assessment of the Hueco Bolson, New Mexico and Texas, 2016–17
Series title Scientific Investigations Report
Series number 2020-5056
DOI 10.3133/sir20205056
Year Published 2020
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Oklahoma Water Science Center, Texas Water Science Center
Description Report: viii, 30 p.; Data Release
Country United States
State New Mexico, Texas
Other Geospatial Hueco Bolson
Online Only (Y/N) N
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details