Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Streamflow gains and losses in the Colorado River in northwestern Burnet and southeastern San Saba Counties, Texas

August 12, 2015

In October 2012, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), in cooperation with the Central Texas Groundwater Conservation District, began an assessment to better understand if and where groundwater from the Ellenburger-San Saba aquifer is discharging to the Colorado River, and if and where Colorado River streamflow is recharging the Ellenburger-San Saba aquifer in the study area. Discharge measurements were made to determine if different reaches of the Colorado River in northwestern Burnet and southeastern San Saba Counties are gaining or losing streamflow, the locations and quantities of gains and losses, and whether the gains and losses can be attributed to interaction between the river and the Ellenbuger-San Saba aquifer. To assess streamflow gains and losses, two sets of synoptic gain-loss discharge measurements representing different streamflow conditions were completed. In the first gain-loss streamflow survey during December 3–6, 2012 (hereinafter the fall 2012 gain-loss survey), discharge measurements were made at low-flow conditions ranging from about 30 to 60 cubic feet per second (ft3/s) at seven locations along the Colorado River. In the second gain-loss streamflow survey during May 31–June 1, 2014 (hereinafter the spring 2014 gain-loss survey), discharge measurements were made at high-flow conditions ranging from about 660 to 900 ft3/s at 12 locations along the Colorado River.

During the fall 2012 gain-loss survey, verifiable gains or losses of streamflow were identified in 4 of 6 reaches (the difference in measured discharge between the upstream and downstream boundaries of the reach was larger than the sum of potential errors associated with the two discharge measurements). The two reaches with a verifiable gain in streamflow cross areas where the Ellenburger-San Saba aquifer crops out. The more upstream of the two reaches with verifiable losses crosses a small part of the Ellenburger-San Saba aquifer outcrop and confining units (Point Peak Member and Morgan Creek Limestone); it is possible streamflow losses in this reach are in the form of recharge to the Ellenburger-San Saba aquifer; little streamflow is likely lost to the underlying formations in the downstream part of the reach, which consists of relatively impermeable aquifer confining units exposed at land surface. The more downstream of the two reaches where a verifiable loss of streamflow was measured also flows across relatively impermeable confining units before crossing the Mid-Cambrian aquifer outcrop in the lower part of the reach; most of the streamflow losses in this reach were likely a result of water infiltrating into the subsurface from the streambed and providing recharge to the relatively permeable Mid-Cambrian aquifer.

During the spring 2014 gain-loss survey, 11 reaches were combined into 3 in an attempt to consolidate gains and losses as well as group reaches within the same hydrogeologic units. An unverifiable loss was measured in the reach farthest upstream, which crosses a combination of alluvium and Ellenburger-San Saba aquifer outcrop, whereas an unverifiable gain was measured in the middle reach, which crosses each of the different hydrogeologic units represented in the study area. The reach farthest downstream crosses an area where only the Ellenburger-San Saba aquifer crops out; a streamflow gain of 123 ft3/s was measured in this reach, exceeding the potential error of 93.9 ft3/s. The verifiable streamflow gain in this downstream reach implies the Ellenburger-San Saba aquifer was discharging groundwater to the Colorado River in this part of the study area under the hydrologic conditions of the spring 2014 gain-loss survey.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2015
Title Streamflow gains and losses in the Colorado River in northwestern Burnet and southeastern San Saba Counties, Texas
DOI 10.3133/sir20155098
Authors Christopher L. Braun, Scott D. Grzyb
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2015-5098
Index ID sir20155098
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Alabama Water Science Center; Texas Water Science Center

Related Content