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Effects of Emission Reductions at the Hayden Powerplant on Precipitation, Snowpack, and Surface-Water Chemistry in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area, Colorado, 1995-2003

By M. Alisa Mast, Donald H. Campbell, and George P. Ingersoll

Available from the U.S. Geological Survey, Branch of Information Services, Box 25286, Denver Federal Center, Denver, CO 80225, USGS Scientific Investigations Report 2005-5167, 32 p., 20 figs.

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The citation for this report, in USGS format, is as follows:
Mast, M.A., Campbell, D.H., and Ingersoll, G.P., 2005, Effects of emission reductions at the Hayden powerplant on precipitation, snowpack, and surface-water chemistry in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area, Colorado, 1995-2003: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2005-5167, 32 p.

Abstract

Precipitation, snowpack, and surface-water samples collected during 1995-2003 were analyzed to evaluate the effects of emission reductions at the Hayden powerplant on water chemistry in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area. The Hayden powerplant, one of two large coal-fired powerplants in the Yampa Valley, was retrofitted with control systems during late 1998 and 1999 to reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide--the primary precursors of haze and acidic precipitation. The U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, evaluated three water-chemistry data sets: wet-only precipitation chemistry from the National Atmospheric Deposition Program, snowpack chemistry from the Rocky Mountain snowpack network, and surface-water chemistry from a U.S. Geological Survey long-term lakes monitoring program. Concentrations and deposition rates of selected constituents were compared for the periods before and after emission reductions at the Hayden powerplant. Data collected during 1995-98 were used to represent the pre-control period, and data collected during 2000-2003 were used to represent the post-control period.

Ten stations in the National Atmospheric Deposition Program were evaluated including two that were directly downwind from the Hayden powerplant (Dry Lake and Buffalo Pass) and eight that were upwind or more distant (more than 100 kilometers) from the powerplant. Precipitation amount at all 10 precipitation stations was lower in the post-control period than the pre-control period as a result of a regional drought that persisted during the post-control period. In contrast to precipitation amount, there was no consistent pattern of change in sulfate concentrations between periods, indicating that the drought did not have a concentrating effect on sulfate or that trends in regional sulfur dioxide emissions masked its influence. Sulfate concentrations increased at three stations between periods, remained the same at three stations, and decreased at four stations. The largest change in average annual sulfate concentrations occurred at the two precipitation stations downwind from the Hayden powerplant, decreasing by 3.3 microequivalents per liter at Dry Lake and by 2.2 microequivalents per liter at Buffalo Pass. Declines in annual sulfate deposition also were greater at Dry Lake (3.4 kilograms per hectare) and Buffalo Pass (3.3 kilograms per hectare) than at the other stations, which ranged from 0.2 to 1.7 kilograms per hectare. These results indicate that emission reductions at the Hayden powerplant have been a factor in declines in atmospheric deposition of sulfate downwind from the powerplant. Nitrate, ammonium, and base-cation concentrations, in contrast to sulfate, were higher in the post-control period than the pre-control period at all 10 stations, most likely due to a concentrating effect of the drought.

Twenty-two snowpack sites in the Rocky Mountain snowpack network were evaluated including 4 sites that were located directly downwind from the Hayden powerplant and 18 sites that were upwind or more distant (as much as 200 kilometers) from the powerplant. The water content of the snowpack at maximum accumulation was lower in the post-control period than the pre-control period, reflecting the regional drought. Although there were small declines in snowpack sulfate concentrations at the downwind stations between the pre- and post-control periods, the difference was not statistically significant, indicating emission reductions had a weaker effect on snowpack chemistry than precipitation chemistry. Sulfate deposition decreased at all four downwind sites in the post-control period, primarily reflecting both lower water content and concentrations in the snowpack. As observed at the precipitation stations, nitrate, ammonium, and base-cation concentrations at all 22 sites were significantly higher in the post-control period than the pre-control period, reflecting drier conditions caused by drought.

The chemistry at six surface-water sites in and near the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area and five control sites in the Flat Tops Wilderness Area was examined. No response to emission reductions was detectable in chemistry of the surface water in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area. Detection of a response to changes in emissions and deposition in the lake-chemistry data may have been confounded by drought conditions during the period after emission reductions occurred. The magnitude of reduced sulfate in atmospheric deposition indicates that at some time in the future, a reduction in lake sulfate attributable to Yampa Valley emission reduction should be detectable. The trend of decreasing sulfur dioxide emissions throughout western North America over the past 20 years is reflected in reduced concentrations of sulfate in lakes that were part of this study, as well as other lakes in the Rocky Mountains. However, detection of the surface-water response to changes in deposition requires a sufficiently long record to minimize effects of climate variability and to allow for lag time as sulfate moves through storage in soil, ground water, and lake reservoirs.


Table of Contents

Abstract

Introduction

Purpose and Scope

Acknowledgments

Effects of Emission Reductions on Precipitation, Snowpack, and Surface-Water Chemistry

Precipitation Chemistry

Data Collection and Analysis

Precipitation Amount

Chemical Constituent Concentrations and Deposition Rates

Snowpack Chemistry

Data Collection and Analysis

Water Content of the Snowpack

Chemical Constituent Concentrations and Deposition Rates

Surface-Water Chemistry

Data Collection and Analysis

Discharge Adjustment to Concentration Data

Chemical Constituent Concentrations

Summary and Conclusions

References Cited

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