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Water Resources of Colorado

Review and Analysis of Available Streamflow and Water-Quality Data for Park County, Colorado, 1962-98

by Robert A. Kimbrough

Available from the U.S. Geological Survey, Branch of Information Services, Box 25286, Denver Federal Center, Denver, CO 80225, USGS Water-Resources Investigations Report 01-4034, 66 p., 26 figs.

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Information on streamflow and surface-water and ground-water quality in Park County, Colorado, was compiled from several Federal, State, and local agencies. The data were reviewed and analyzed to provide a perspective of recent (1962-98) water-resource conditions and to help identify current and future water-quantity and water-quality concerns.

Streamflow has been monitored at more than 40 sites in the county, and data for some sites date back to the early 1900's. Existing data indicate a need for increased archival of streamflow data for future use and analysis. In 1998, streamflow was continuously monitored at about 30 sites, but data were stored in a data base for only 10 sites.

Water-quality data were compiled for 125 surface-water sites, 398 wells, and 30 springs. The amount of data varied considerably among sites; however, the available information provided a general indication of where water-quality constituent concentrations met or exceeded water-quality standards.

Park County is primarily drained by streams in the South Platte River Basin and to a lesser extent by streams in the Arkansas River Basin. In the South Platte River Basin in Park County, more than one-half the annual streamflow occurs in May, June, and July in response to snowmelt in the mountainous headwaters. The annual snowpack is comparatively less in the Arkansas River Basin in Park County, and mean monthly streamflow is more consistent throughout the year. In some streams, the timing and magnitude of streamflow have been altered by main-stem reservoirs or by interbasin water transfers.

Most values of surface-water temperature, dissolved oxygen, and pH were within recommended limits set by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Specific conductance (an indirect measure of the dissolved-solids concentration) generally was lowest in streams of the upper South Platte River Basin and higher in the southern one-half of the county in the Arkansas River Basin and in the South Platte River downstream from Antero Reservoir.

Historical nitrogen concentrations in surface water were small. Nitrite was not detected, most un-ionized ammonia concentrations were less than 0.02 milligram per liter, and all nitrate concentrations were less than 1.2 milligrams per liter. Nitrate concentrations were higher in urban and built-up areas than in rangeland and forest areas. Most median concentrations of total phosphorus at individual sites were less than 0.05 milligram per liter, and concentrations were not significantly different among urban and built-up, rangeland, and forest areas. An upward trend in total phosphorus concentration was determined for flow from the East Portal of the Harold D. Roberts Tunnel, but the slope of the trend line was small and the concentrations were equal or nearly equal to the detection limit of 0.01 milligram per liter. Using median phosphorus loads for two South Platte River sites, the annual phosphorus load transported out of Park County in the South Platte River was calculated to be about 10,000 pounds.

Median iron and manganese concentrations for most areas of Park County were less than in-stream water-quality standards, even though several individual concentrations were one to two orders of magnitude larger than the standards. The largest concentrations of aluminum, cadmium, chromium, copper, iron, manganese, nickel, and zinc were from the upper North Fork South Platte River Basin or the Mosquito Creek Basin.

All ground-water concentrations of chloride and most ground-water concentrations of sulfate were less than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) drinking-water standard of 250 milligrams per liter. Median dissolved-solids concentrations in ground water ranged from 160 milligrams per liter in the crystalline-rock aquifers to 257 milligrams per liter in the sedimentary-rock aquifers. Dissolved-solids concentrations greater than the USEPA drinking-water standard of 500 milligrams per liter were detected in about 10 percent of the wells and in all aquifer types sampled but were most common in samples from the sedimentary-rock aquifers between the towns of Jefferson and Hartsel. Nitrate concentrations in ground water greater than the USEPA drinking-water standard of 10 milligrams per liter were measured primarily in samples collected during the 1990's in wells located in subdivisions northeast of Bailey.

Nitrate concentrations in these subdivision wells were significantly larger than concentrations measured in wells in the same area in the 1970's, indicating a possible increase in ground-water contamination.

Most trace-element concentrations measured in Park County ground water were less than USEPA drinking-water standards; however, standards for iron, manganese, and zinc were exceeded in a small number of samples. Trace-element concentrations exceeding the standards occurred in each aquifer type, and median concentrations of iron, manganese, and zinc were similar among aquifer types.

The physical and chemical characteristics of springwater in Park County varied greatly and were dependent on the type of rock in which the water originated. Specific conductance was lowest in springs originating in the crystalline-rock aquifers of Precambrian age and highest in a spring that may originate in evaporite beds in a sedimentary-rock aquifer that is composed of the Maroon Formation of Paleozoic age.


Table of Contents



Purpose and Scope


Description of the Study Area

Data Sources and Compilation

Methods of Water-Quality Data Review and Analysis


Surface-Water Quality

Physical Properties

Major Ions and Dissolved Solids


Temporal Trends in Nutrient Concentrations

Phosphorus Loads at Selected Surface-Water Sites in the South Platte River Basin

Trace Elements

Suspended Sediment

Ground-Water Quality

Physical Properties

Major Ions and Dissolved Solids


Trace Elements and Radon

Springwater Quality

Physical Properties

Major Ions and Dissolved Solids


Trace Elements



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Water Resources of Colorado


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