USGS Reports

The U.S. Geological Survey has published the following New Mexico related publications since the last issue of the Divining Rod. The Water Resources Research Institute library has the reports on file. They also may be ordered from the USGS, Federal Center, Box 25286, MS 517, Denver, CO 80225. You may call (303) 202-4700 for price information.

Water quality in the Rio Grande Valley, Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas, 1992-1995 by Gary W. Levings, Denis F. Healy, Steven F. Richey and Lisa F. Carter (USGS Circular 1162).
A five-year study of water quality in the Rio Grande Valley, from its headwaters in Colorado to near El Paso, Texas, has been completed by the USGS. The study focused on groundwater in the flood plain of the Rio Grande and surface water in the Rio Grande and selected tributaries.
Adverse effects on water quality were observed in shallow groundwater, which is most susceptible to contamination, by the detection of anthropogenic chemicals, such as nitrates, pesticides, and volatile organic compounds; naturally occurring trace elements, such as iron, manganese, molybdenum, and uranium; and radon.

Compared to established human health standards, nitrate concentrations in the San Luis and Rincon valleys exceeded the U.S. EPA maximum contaminant level (MCL) for drinking water in 31% and 17% of the wells, respectively. Shallow groundwater generally is not used as a drinking water source in these areas.Pesticides were detected in shallow groundwater in both agricultural and urban land-use areas; 29% of the wells contained at least one pesticide. The detected concentrations were very small compared to established MCLs, although not all pesticides have MCLs. Multiple pesticides were detected in several wells; the effect that combinations of pesticides may have on human health is unknown. Volatile organic compounds were detected in shallow groundwater from 11% of the wells sampled. No concentrations of pesticides and volatile organic compounds exceeded EPA drinking water standards.

Only two trace elements exceed EPA MCLs or Health Advisories for drinking water. Uranium concentrations exceeded the EPA-proposed MCL in 13% of the wells and molybdenum exceeded the EPA Health Advisory in 2% of the wells.

Radon was detected in all groundwater samples. Water from shallow wells in the San Luis Valley and deeper wells in the Rio Grande flood plain contained the highest median concentrations. At present no EPA drinking water standard exists for radon.

Water quality in reaches of the Rio Grande and some of its tributaries has been impaired by pesticides, elevated concentrations of trace elements, and anthropogenic disturbance. Pesticides were detected in surface water, bed sediment, and fish samples collected at sites in the Rio Grande and its tributaries and drains. However, no pesticide concentration exceeded EPA drinking water standards or applicable federal or state ambient criteria or guidelines. One or more pesticides were detected at 94% of the sites sampled; most concentrations were at or only slightly above the laboratory level of detection.

Analysis of fish community-structure data collected at ten sites indicates that six of the sites show indications of environmental perturbation. This analysis is based on the number of introduced, omnivorous, and pollution-tolerant fish and those with external anomalies counted at the sites sampled. On the basis of habitat data collected on stream modification, bank erosion, bank vegetation stability, and riparian vegetation density, six of ten sites sampled have significant habitat degradation.

A 39-page color report summarizes the results of the study. For technical information, contact Gary Levings at (505) 262-5335 or send email to

    • Water-quality data for the Rio Grande between Picacho Bridge near Las Cruces and Calle del Norte Bridge near Mesilla, New Mexico, 1996-97 by G.F. Huff (OFR 98-66)
    • Proposed expansion of the City of Albuquerque/U.S. Geological Survey ground-water-level monitoring network for the Middle Rio Grande Basin, New Mexico by Laura M. Bexfield (OFR 97-787)
    • Characterization and evaluation of channel and hillslope erosion on the Zuni Indian Reservation, New Mexico, 1992-95 by Allen C. Gellis (WRIR 97-4281)
    • Simulation of ground-water flow in the Albuquerque Basin, central New Mexico 1901-95, with projections to 2020 by John Michael Kernodle (OFR 96-209)


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