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Characterization and data-gap analysis of surface-water quality data in the Piceance study area, western Colorado, 1959–2009

March 29, 2013

The U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with Federal, State, county, and industry partners, developed a Web-accessible common data repository to provide access to historical and current (as of August 2009) water-quality information (available on the Internet at Surface-water-quality data from public and private sources were compiled for the period 1931 to 2009 and loaded into the common data repository for the Piceance Basin. A subset of surface-water-quality data for 1959 to 2009 from the repository were compiled, reviewed, and checked for quality assurance for this report. This report contains data summaries, comparisons to water-quality standards, trend analyses, a generalized spatial analysis, and a data-gap analysis for select water-quality properties and constituents. Summary statistics and a comparison to standards were provided for 347 sites for 33 constituents including field properties, nutrients, major ions, trace elements, suspended sediment, Escherichia coli, and BTEX (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene). When sufficient data were available, trends over time were analyzed and loads were calculated for those sites where there were also continuous streamflow data. The majority of sites had information on field properties. Water temperature data was available for 316 sites where data were collected between 1959 and 2009. The only trend that was detected in temperature was an upward trend at the Gunnison River near Grand Junction, Colorado. There were 326 values out of a total of 32,006 values in the study area that exceeded the aquatic-life standard for daily maximum water temperature. For the entire study area, 196 sites had dissolved-oxygen data collected between 1970 and 2009, and median dissolved-oxygen concentrations ranged from 6.8 to11.2 milligrams per liter (mg/L). There were 185 concentrations that exceeded the dissolved oxygen aquatic-life standard out of a total of 11,248 values. The pH data were available for 276 sites, and median pH values ranged from 7.5 to 9.0. There were 241 values that exceeded the high pH standard and 13 values that were less than the low pH standard of the 16,790 values in the study area. Nutrients within the study area were not well represented in each basin and were often not being sampled currently. For the entire study area, 62 sites had nitrate data collected between 1958 and 2009, and median nitrate concentrations ranged from less than detection to 3.72 mg/L as nitrogen. The maximum contaminant level for domestic water supply for nitrate is 10 mg/L and was exceeded once in 3,736 samples. Total phosphorus was collected at 113 sites between 1974 and 2009, and median total phosphorus concentrations ranged from less than detection to 5.04 mg/L. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommendation for phosphorus is less than 0.1 mg/L, and 1,469 of 4,842 samples exceeded this recommended standard. An upward trend in both nitrate and total phosphorus was detected in the White River above Coal Creek near Meeker, Colo. Standards for major ions exist only for chloride and sulfate. For the entire study area, 118 sites had both chloride and sulfate concentration data collected between 1958 and 2009. Median chloride concentrations ranged from 0.085 mg/L to 280 mg/L. Median sulfate concentrations ranged from 4.57 mg/L to 15,000 mg/L. Both chloride and sulfate domestic water-supply standards are 250 mg/L. There were 120 chloride concentrations and 1,111 sulfate concentration samples that exceeded these standards. A downward trend in dissolved solids was detected at the Colorado River near the Colorado-Utah state border and could be a result of salinity control work near Grand Junction, Colo. Trace elements were relatively well represented both temporally and spatially in the study area though the number of trace element samples per site was not typically enough to compute trends or loads except for selenium. There were 127 sites that had dissolved iron concentration data collected between 1961 and 2009, and median iron concentrations ranged from less than detection to 1,100 micrograms per liter (µg/L). The 30-day drinking-water standard for iron is 300 µg/L, and 203 samples exceeded the standard. Selenium was the best represented trace element with selenium concentration data collected at 197 sites between 1973 and 2009, and median selenium concentrations range from less than detection to 181 µg/L. The chronic standard of 4.6 µg/L for selenium concentrations was exceeded in 899 samples, and the acute aquatic-life standard of 18.4 µg/ for selenium was exceeded in 629 samples. High concentrations of selenium are of concern in the Lower Gunnison River Basin because of the combination of geologic formations and land use. There were significant downward trends in selenium at both main-stem sites on the Gunnison River at Delta, Colo., and the Gunnison River near Grand Junction, Colo. High selenium concentrations correlate with high salinity concentrations; thus, when salinity control efforts are conducted in selenium-rich areas in the Lower Gunnison River Basin, both salinity and selenium have the potential to decrease. Spatial, temporal, and analytical data gaps were identified in the study area. The spatial coverage of sampling sites could be expanded in the White River Basin by adding more tributary sites. No water-quality data exist for tributary streams in the area north of Rangely, Colo., where extensive energy development has occurred in a complex geologic setting. Douglas Creek has a drainage area of 425 square miles and has limited historic water-quality and water-quantity data. Limited data were available for field properties, major ions, nutrients, and trace elements on the main stem of the Colorado River between Glenwood Springs and Cameo, Colo. Nutrient data were minimally collected upstream from Colorado River at the Colorado-Utah state border and on the Gunnison River (major tributary in the reach). Approximately 30 percent of the samples for total phosphorus in the Lower Gunnison River Basin exceeded the recommended standard, yet there were insufficient data to do trends analysis in the Lower Gunnison River Basin except at the Gunnison near Grand Junction site. There is limited trace element data except for selenium in the Lower Gunnison River Basin. Additional sampling is necessary to understand the occurrence, concentrations, and loads of these constituents.