Dissolved Solids in Streams of the Conterminous United States

Monday, 15 December 2014
David William Anning and Marilyn Flynn, USGS Arizona Water Science Center, Tucson, AZ, United States
Studies have shown that excessive dissolved-solids concentrations in water can have adverse effects on the environment and on agricultural, municipal, and industrial water users. Such effects motivated the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Water-Quality Assessment Program to develop a SPAtially-Referenced Regression on Watershed Attributes (SPARROW) model to improve the understanding of dissolved solids in streams of the United States.

Using the SPARROW model, annual dissolved-solids loads from 2,560 water-quality monitoring stations were statistically related to several spatial datasets serving as surrogates for dissolved-solids sources and transport processes. Sources investigated in the model included geologic materials, road de-icers, urban lands, cultivated lands, and pasture lands. Factors affecting transport from these sources to streams in the model included climate, soil, vegetation, terrain, population, irrigation, and artificial-drainage characteristics.

The SPARROW model was used to predict long-term mean annual conditions for dissolved-solids sources, loads, yields, and concentrations in about 66,000 stream reaches and corresponding incremental catchments nationwide. The estimated total amount of dissolved solids delivered to the Nation’s streams is 272 million metric tons (Mt) annually, of which 194 million Mt (71%) are from geologic sources, 38 million Mt (14%) are from road de-icers, 18 million Mt (7%) are from pasture lands, 14 million Mt (5 %) are from urban lands, and 8 million Mt (3%) are from cultivated lands. The median incremental-catchment yield delivered to local streams is 26 metric tons per year per square kilometer [(Mt/yr)/km2]. Ten percent of the incremental catchments yield less than 4 (Mt/yr)/km2, and 10 percent yield more than 90 (Mt/yr)/km2. In 13% of the reaches, predicted flow-weighted concentrations exceed 500 mg/L—the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency secondary non-enforceable drinking-water standard.