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Streamflow, groundwater hydrology, and water quality in the upper Coleto Creek watershed in southeast Texas, 2009–10

October 24, 2011

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), in cooperation with the Goliad County Groundwater Conservation District, Victoria County Groundwater Conservation District, Pecan Valley Groundwater Conservation District, Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority, and San Antonio River Authority, did a study to examine the hydrology and stream-aquifer interactions in the upper Coleto Creek watershed. Findings of the study will enhance the scientific understanding of the study-area hydrology and be used to support water-management decisions to help ensure protection of the Evangeline aquifer and surface-water resources in the study area. This report describes the results of streamflow measurements, groundwater-level measurements, and water quality (from both surface-water and groundwater sites) collected from three sampling events (July–August 2009, January 2010, and June 2010) designed to characterize groundwater (from the Evangeline aquifer) and surface water, and the interaction between them, in the upper Coleto Creek watershed upstream from Coleto Creek Reservoir in southeast Texas. This report also provides a baseline level of water quality for the upper Coleto Creek watershed. Three surface-water gain-loss surveys—July 29–30, 2009, January 11–13, 2010, and June 21–22, 2010—were done under differing hydrologic conditions to determine the locations and amounts of streamflow recharging or discharging from the Evangeline aquifer. During periods when flow in the reaches of the upper Coleto Creek watershed was common (such as June 2010, when 12 of 25 reaches were flowing) or probable (such as January 2010, when 22 of 25 reaches were flowing), most of the reaches appeared to be gaining (86 percent in January 2010 and 92 percent in June 2010); however, during drought conditions (July 2009), streamflow was negligible in the entire upper Coleto Creek watershed; streamflow was observed in only two reaches during this period, one that receives inflow directly from Audilet Spring and another reach immediately downstream from Audilet Spring. Water levels in the aquifer at this time declined to the point that the aquifer could no longer provide sufficient water to the streams to sustain flow. Groundwater-level altitudes were measured at as many as 33 different wells in the upper Coleto Creek watershed during three different survey events: August 4–7 and 12, 2009; January 12–14 and 22, 2010; and June 21–24, 2010. These data were used in conjunction with groundwater-level altitudes from three continuously monitored wells to generate potentiometric surface maps for each of the three sampling events to help characterize the groundwater hydrology of the Evangeline aquifer. The altitudes of potentiometric surface contours from all three sampling events are highest in the northeast part of the study area and lowest in the southwest part of the study area. Groundwater flow direction shifts from southeast to east across the watershed, roughly coinciding with the general flow direction of the main stem of Coleto Creek. Groundwater-level altitudes increased an average of 2.35 inches between the first and third sampling events as drought conditions in summer 2009 were followed by consistent rains the subsequent fall and winter, an indication that the aquifer responds relatively quickly to both the absence and relative abundance of precipitation. A total of 44 water-quality samples were collected at 21 different sites over the course of the three sampling events (August 4–7, 2009, January 12–14, 2010, and June 21–24, 2010). In most cases, samples from each site were analyzed for the following constituents: dissolved solids, major ions, alkalinity, nutrients, trace elements, and stable isotopes (hydrogen, oxygen, and strontium). Major-ion compositions were relatively consistent among most of the samples from the upper Coleto Creek watershed (generally calcium bicarbonate waters, with chloride often making a major contribution). Of the 23 trace elements that were analyzed in water samples as part of this study, only arsenic (in two samples) and manganese (in seven samples) had concentrations that exceeded public drinking-water standards or guidelines. At 3 of the 19 sites sampled—State wells 79-06-411, 79-14-204, and Audilet Spring—nitrate concentrations exceeded the threshold (2.0 milligrams per liter) associated with anthropogenic contributions. The majority of the water samples (36 out of 44) that were analyzed for stable isotopes of hydrogen and oxygen during the three sampling events plotted in a relatively tight cluster centered near the global meteoric water line. The eight remaining samples, which include the four surface-water samples collected in June 2010, the sample collected from Coleto Creek Reservoir in January 2010, and all three samples collected at State well 79-15-904, deviate from the global meteoric water line in a way that indicates evaporative losses. The isotopic signatures of the three samples collected at State well 79-15-904, when taken in conjunction with its proximity to Coleto Creek Reservoir, indicate that there is likely a hydraulic connection between the two. When all of the sites are examined as a whole, there is a general pattern in strontium concentrations across the entire watershed that indicates that both the surface-water and groundwater samples derive from a single source (the Evangeline aquifer) with relatively uniform water-rock interactions.

Publication Year 2011
Title Streamflow, groundwater hydrology, and water quality in the upper Coleto Creek watershed in southeast Texas, 2009–10
DOI 10.3133/sir20115157
Authors Christopher L. Braun, Rebecca B. Lambert
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2011-5157
Index ID sir20115157
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Texas Water Science Center