Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Water quality and mass transport in four watersheds in eastern Puerto Rico: Chapter E in Water quality and landscape processes of four watersheds in eastern Puerto Rico

November 1, 2012

Water quality of four small watersheds in eastern Puerto Rico has been monitored since 1991 as part of the U.S. Geological Survey's Water, Energy, and Biogeochemical Budgets program. These watersheds represent a montane, humid-tropical environment and differ in geology and land cover. Two watersheds are located on granitic rocks, and two are located on volcaniclastic rock. For each bedrock type, one watershed is covered with mature rainforest in the Luquillo Mountains, and the other watershed is undergoing reforestation after being affected by agricultural practices typical of eastern Puerto Rico. A subwatershed of the Icacos watershed, the Guabá, was also monitored to examine scaling effects. The water quality of the rivers draining forest, in the Icacos and Guabá (granitic watersheds) and Mameyes (a volcaniclastic watershed), show little contamination by human activities. The water is well oxygenated and has a nearly neutral pH, and nutrient concentrations are low. Concentrations of nutrients in the disturbed watersheds, the Cayaguás (granitic rock) and Canóvanas (volcaniclastic rock), are greater than in the forested watersheds, indicating some inputs from human activities. High in-stream productivity in the Canóvanas watershed leads to occasional oxygen and calcite supersaturation and carbon dioxide undersaturation. Suspended sediment concentrations in all watersheds are low, except during major storms. Most dissolved constituents derived from bedrock weathering or atmospheric deposition (including sodium, magnesium, calcium, silica, alkalinity, and chloride) decrease in concentration with increasing runoff, reflecting dilution from increased proportions of overland or near-surface flow. Strongly bioactive constituents (dissolved organic carbon, potassium, nitrate, ammonium ion, and phosphate) commonly display increasing concentration with increasing runoff, regardless of their ultimate origin (bedrock or atmosphere). The concentrations of many of the bioactive constituents eventually decrease at runoff rates greater than 3 to 10 millimeters per hour, presumably reflecting an increased relative contribution from overland flow. Sulfate behaves like the nonbioactive constituents in the Canóvanas, Cayaguás, and Mameyes watersheds but like a bioactive constituent in the Icacos and Guabá watersheds. Storms resulted in several anomalous sample compositions. Runoff waters from a number of storms - mostly hurricanes, but also other storms - have exceptionally high chloride concentrations, presumably resulting from windborne seasalt from the ocean, and low nitrate concentrations, reflecting a dominance of maritime air masses contributing moisture to the storms. High-potassium samples, without high chloride, are also associated with some smaller storms that followed Hurricane Georges in 1998; they are likely related to the breakdown of fallen vegetation. Finally, occasional low-silica events are observed in the Icacos and Guabá watersheds in the years prior to Hurricane Georges, but not after; this difference may be related to a change in hydrologic flow paths.

Publication Year 2012
Title Water quality and mass transport in four watersheds in eastern Puerto Rico: Chapter E in Water quality and landscape processes of four watersheds in eastern Puerto Rico
DOI 10.3133/pp1789E
Authors Robert F. Stallard, Sheila F. Murphy
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Professional Paper
Series Number 1789
Index ID pp1789E
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Branch of Regional Research-Central Region