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Chemistry of Runoff and Shallow Ground Water at the Cattlemans Detention Basin Site, South Lake Tahoe, California, August 2000-November 2001

By David E. Prudic, Sienna J. Sager, James L. Wood, Katherine K. Henkelman, and Rachel M. Caskey

Report availability: Portable Document Format (PDF).


A study at the Cattlemans detention basin site began in November 2000. The site is adjacent to Cold Creek in South Lake Tahoe, California. The purpose of the study is to evaluate the effects of the detention basin on ground-water discharge and changes in nutrient loads to Cold Creek, a tributary to Trout Creek and Lake Tahoe. The study is being done in cooperation with the Tahoe Engineering Division of the El Dorado County Department of Transportation. This report summarizes data collected prior to and during construction of the detention basin and includes: (1) nutrient and total suspended solid concentrations of urban runoff; (2) distribution of unconsolidated deposits; (3) direction of ground-water flow; and (4) chemistry of shallow ground water and Cold Creek.

Unconsolidated deposits in the area of the detention basin were categorized into three classes: fill material consisting of a red-brown loamy sand with some gravel and an occasional cobble that was placed on top of the meadow; meadow deposits consisting of gray silt and sand with stringers of coarse sand and fine gravel; and a deeper brown to yellow-brown sand and gravel with lenses of silt and sand. Prior to construction of the detention basin, ground water flowed west-northwest across the area of the detention basin toward Cold Creek. The direction of ground-water flow did not change during construction of the detention basin.

Median concentrations of dissolved iron and chloride were 500 and 30 times higher, respectively, in ground water from the meadow deposits than dissolved concentrations in Cold Creek. Median concentration of sulfate in ground water from the meadow deposits was 0.4 milligrams per liter and dissolved oxygen was below the detection level of 0.3 milligrams per liter. The relatively high concentrations of iron and the lack of sulfate in the shallow ground water likely are caused by chemical reactions and biological microbial oxidation of organic matter in the unconsolidated deposits that result in little to no dissolved oxygen in the ground water. The higher chloride concentrations in ground water compared with Cold Creek likely are caused from the application of salt on Pioneer Trail and streets in Montgomery Estates subdivision during the winter. Runoff from these roads contributes to the recharge of the shallow ground water. The range of dissolved constituents generally was greater in the meadow deposits than in the deeper sand and gravel.

Ammonia plus organic nitrogen were the dominant forms of dissolved nitrogen and concentrations ranged from 0.04 to 18 milligrams per liter as nitrogen. Highest concentration was beneath the middle of the detention basin. Nitrate plus nitrite concentrations were low (<0.33 milligrams per liter as nitrogen) throughout the area and dissolved phosphorus concentrations ranged from 0.001 to 0.34 milligrams per liter. Nitrogen and dissolved organic carbon showed no consistent pattern in the direction of ground-water flow, which suggests that, similar to iron and sulfate, local variations in the chemical and biological reactions within the meadow deposits controlled the variation in nitrogen concentrations. The gradual increase in dissolved phosphorus along the direction of ground-water flow suggest that phosphorus may be slowly dissolving into ground water. Dissolved phosphorus was consistently low in July, which may be the result of greater microbial activity in the unconsolidated deposits or from uptake by roots during the summer.

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