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Groundwater quality of the Gulf Coast aquifer system, Houston, Texas, 2010

June 15, 2011

During March–December 2010, the U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the city of Houston, collected source-water samples from 60 municipal supply wells in the Houston area. These data were collected as part of an ongoing study to determine concentrations, spatial extent, and associated geochemical conditions that might be conducive for mobility and transport of selected naturally occurring contaminants (selected trace elements and radionuclides) in the Gulf Coast aquifer system in the Houston area. In the summers of 2007 and 2008, a reconnaissance-level survey of these constituents in untreated water from 28 municipal supply wells was completed in the Houston area. Included in this report are the complete analytical results for 47 of the 60 samples collected in 2010—those results which were received from the laboratories and reviewed by the authors as of December 31, 2010. All of the wells sampled were screened in the Gulf Coast aquifer system; 22 were screened entirely in the Evangeline aquifer, and the remaining 25 wells contained screened intervals that intersected both Evangeline and Chicot aquifers. The data documented in this report were collected as part of an ongoing study to characterize source-water-quality conditions in untreated groundwater prior to drinking-water treatment. An evaluation of contaminant occurrence in source water provides background information regarding the presence of a contaminant in the environment. Because source-water samples were collected prior to any treatment or blending that potentially could alter contaminant concentrations, the water-quality results documented by this report represent the quality of the source water, not the quality of finished drinking water provided to the public.

Samples were analyzed for major ions (calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, bromide, chloride, fluoride, silica, and sulfate), residue on evaporation (dissolved solids), trace elements (arsenic, barium, boron, chromium, iron, lithium, manganese, molybdenum, selenium, strontium, and vanadium), and selected radionuclides (gross alpha- and beta-particle activity [at 72 hours and 30 days], carbon-14, radium-226, radon-222, and uranium). Field measurements were made of selected physicochemical (relating to both physical and chemical) properties (oxidation-reduction potential, turbidity, dissolved-oxygen concentration, pH, specific conductance, water temperature, and alkalinity) and unfiltered sulfides.

Similar to the results from the reconnaissance survey, physicochemical properties, major ions, and trace elements varied considerably. The ranges of selected physicochemical properties were as follows: oxidation-reduction potential ranged from -173 to 466 millivolts, dissolved oxygen ranged from less than 0.1 to 4.4 milligrams per liter, pH ranged from 7.2 to 7.8, specific conductance ranged from 439 to 724 microsiemens per centimeter at 25 degrees Celsius, and alkalinity ranged from 159 to 276 milligrams per liter as calcium carbonate. The largest ranges in concentration for filtered major ion constituents were obtained for cations sodium and calcium and for anions chloride and sulfate. Arsenic concentrations measured in samples from the 47 wells ranged from 1.6 to 23.5 micrograms per liter. The maximum concentration of arsenic (23.5 micrograms per liter) was measured in the source-water sample from well LJ-65-12-328.

Quantifiable concentrations of barium, boron, lithium, molybdenum, and strontium were measured in all 47 filtered, source-water samples. Quantifiable concentrations of manganese were measured in 46 source-water samples, and an estimated concentration of manganese was measured in 1 sample. Chromium, iron, selenium, and vanadium were detected in 24 or more of the 47 source-water samples.

Gross alpha-particle activities and beta-particle activities for all 47 samples were analyzed at 72 hours after sample collection and again at 30 days after sample collection, allowing for the measurement of the activity of short-lived isotopes. Gross alpha-particle activities reported in this report were not adjusted for activity contributions by radon or uranium and, therefore, are conservatively high estimates if compared to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency National Primary Drinking Water Regulation for adjusted gross alpha-particle activity. The gross alpha-particle activities at 30 days in the samples ranged from R0.60 to 25.5 picocuries per liter and at 72 hours ranged from 2.58 to 39.7 picocuries per liter, and the "R" preceding the value of 0.60 picocuries per liter refers to a nondetected result less than the sample-specific critical level. Gross beta-particle activities measured at 30 days ranged from 1.17 to 14.4 picocuries per liter and at 72 hours ranged from 1.97 to 4.4 picocuries per liter. Filtered uranium was detected in quantifiable amounts in all of the 47 wells sampled. The uranium concentrations ranged from 0.03 to 42.7 micrograms per liter. One sample was analyzed for carbon-14, and the amount of modern atmospheric carbon was reported as 0.2 percent. Six source-water samples collected from municipal supply wells were analyzed for radium-226, and all of the concentrations were considered detectable concentrations (greater than their associated sample-specific critical level). Three source-water samples collected were analyzed for radon-222, and all of the concentrations were substantially greater than the associated sample-specific critical level.

Publication Year 2011
Title Groundwater quality of the Gulf Coast aquifer system, Houston, Texas, 2010
DOI 10.3133/ds598
Authors Jeannette H. Oden, Dexter W. Brown, Timothy D. Oden
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Data Series
Series Number 598
Index ID ds598
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Texas Water Science Center