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Characterization and simulation of the quantity and quality of water in the Highland Lakes, Texas, 1983-92

March 1, 2001

The Highland Lakes, located in central Texas, are a series of seven reservoirs on the Colorado River (Lake Buchanan, Inks Lake, Lake Lyndon B. Johnson, Lake Marble Falls, Lake Travis, Lake Austin, and Town Lake). The reservoirs provide hydroelectric power for the area. In addition, Lake Austin and Town Lake also provide the public water supply for the Austin metropolitan area. Saline water released from Natural Dam Salt Lake during 1987–89 caused increased concern among water managers that high-salinity water entering the Highland Lakes could result in waterquality problems, necessitating additional treatment of the water.

The maximum dissolved solids concentrations for the reservoirs after the saline inflow were about two to three times the average concentrations before the inflow. The maximum concentrations of chloride and sulfate after the inflow were about three to five times the average concentrations before the inflow. The concentrations of dissolved solids, chloride, and sulfate in Lake Buchanan, Inks Lake, Lake Lyndon B. Johnson, and Lake Marble Falls were less than the concentrations of the applicable water-quality standards by the end of 1990. Concentrations of these constituents in Lake Travis, Lake Austin, and Town Lake did not decrease to previous levels, which were less than the concentrations of the applicable waterquality standards, until the end of 1991. Constituent concentrations for Lake Buchanan and Inks Lake; for Lake Lyndon B. Johnson and Lake Marble Falls; and for Lake Travis, Lake Austin, and Town Lake were similar because of the relative storage capacities and location of tributary inflows. From the initial increase in constituent concentrations in Lake Buchanan (summer 1987) in response to the saline inflow, the high-salinity water passed through the entire Highland Lakes in about 3.5 years.

A mathematical mass-balance model was used to simulate the input and movement of highsalinity water through the Highland Lakes and to estimate monthly mean concentrations of dissolved solids, chloride, and sulfate for wet, average, and dry hydrologic conditions. The simulated median monthly concentrations during the 10-year simulation period for each reservoir generally are larger for the average condition than for the wet condition and generally are larger for the dry condition than for the average condition. The simulated concentrations of dissolved solids, chloride, and sulfate decreased to levels less than the concentrations of the applicable water-quality standards in about 2 to 5 years after the saline water inflow of 1987–89 was simulated for the three hydrologic conditions.

Results from the simulations indicate that saline inflows to the Highland Lakes similar to those of the releases from Natural Dam Salt Lake during 1987–89 are unlikely to cause large increases in future concentrations of dissolved solids, chloride, and sulfate in the Highland Lakes. The results also indicate that high-salinity water will continue to be diluted as it is transported downstream through the Highland Lakes, even during extended dry periods.

Citation Information

Publication Year 1999
Title Characterization and simulation of the quantity and quality of water in the Highland Lakes, Texas, 1983-92
DOI 10.3133/wri994087
Authors Timothy H. Raines, Walter Rast
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Water-Resources Investigations Report
Series Number 99-4087
Index ID wri994087
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Texas Water Science Center