Water Resources of Colorado

Water Quality in Alluvial Aquifers of the Southern Rocky Mountains Physiographic Province, Upper Colorado River Basin, Colorado, 1997

by Lori E. Apodaca and Jeffrey B. Bails

Available from the U.S. Geological Survey, Branch of Information Services, Box 25286, Denver Federal Center, Denver, CO 80225, USGS Water-Resources Investigations Report 99–4222, 68 p., 7 figs.

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Water-quality samples were collected in the summer of 1997 from 45 sites (43 wells and 2 springs) in selected alluvial aquifers throughout the Southern Rocky Mountains physiographic province of the Upper Colorado River Basin study unit as part of the U.S. Geological Survey National Water-Quality Assessment Program. The objective of this study was to assess the water-quality conditions in selected alluvial aquifers in the Southern Rocky Mountains physiographic province. Alluvial aquifers are productive aquifers in the Southern Rocky Mountains physiographic province and provide for easily developed wells. Water-quality samples were collected from areas where ground water is used predominantly for domestic or public water supply. Twenty-three of the 45 sites sampled were located in or near mining districts. No statistical differences were observed between the mining sites and sites not associated with mining activities for the majority of the constituents analyzed. Water samples were analyzed for major ions, nutrients, dissolved organic carbon, trace elements, radon-222, pesticides, volatile organic compounds, bacteria, and methylene blue active substances. In addition, field parameters consisting of water temperature, specific conductance, dissolved oxygen, pH, turbidity, and alkalinity were measured at all sites.

Specific conductance for the ground-water sites ranged from 57 to 6,650 microsiemens per centimeter and had higher concentrations measured in areas such as the northwestern part of the study unit. Dissolved oxygen ranged from 0.1 to 6.0 mg/L (milligrams per liter) and had a median concentration of 2.9 mg/L. The pH field values ranged from 6.1 to 8.1; about 4 percent of the sites (2 of 45) had pH values outside the range of 6.5 to 8.5 and so did not meet the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency secondary maximum contaminant level standard for drinking water. About 5 percent (2 of 43) of the samples exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommended turbidity value of 5 nephelometric turbidity units; one of these samples was from a monitoring well.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency secondary maximum contaminant levels for dissolved solids, sulfate, iron, and manganese were exceeded at some of the sites. Higher dissolved-solids concentrations were detected where sedimentary rocks are exposed, such as in the northwestern part of the Southern Rocky Mountains physiographic province. The dominant water compositions for the sites sampled are calcium, magnesium, and bicarbonate. However, sites in areas where sedimentary rocks are exposed and sites located in or near mining areas show more sulfate-dominated waters. Nutrient concentrations were less than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency drinking-water standards. Only one site had a nitrate concentration greater than 3.0 mg/L, a level indicating possible influence from human activities. No significant differences among land-use/land-cover classifications (forest, rangeland, and urban) for drinking-water wells (42 sites) were identified for dissolved-solids, sulfate, nitrate, iron or manganese concentrations. Radon concentrations were higher in parts of the study unit where Precambrian rocks are exposed. All radon concentrations in ground water exceeded the previous U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed maximum contaminant level for drinking water, which has been withdrawn pending further review.

Pesticide detections were at concentrations below the reporting limits and were too few to allow for comparison of the data. Eight volatile organic compounds were detected at six sites; all concentrations complied with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency drinking-water standards. Total coliform bacteria were detected at six sites, but no Escherichia coli (E. coli) was detected. Methylene blue active substances were detected at three sites at concentrations just above the reporting limit. Overall, the water quality in the Southern Rocky Mountains physiographic province is suitable for most uses, but natural and human factors affect the water quality.

Table of Contents




Purpose and Scope


Description of Study Unit

Study Design and Methods

Well Selection

Well Description

Sample Collection and Analysis

Water-Quality Standards and Health Advisories

Statistical Methods

Quality-Control Samples and Quality Assurance of the Data

Ground-Water Quality

Field Parameters

Major Ions

Nutrients and Dissolved Organic Carbon

Trace Elements and Radon


Volatile Organic Compounds

Bacteria and Methylene Blue Active Substances


References Cited


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Water Resources of Colorado

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