Alvarez, N: Sources of phosphorus to the Carson River upstre

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Discharge of treated municipal-sewage effluent to the Carson River in western Nevada and eastern California ceased by 1987 and resulted in a substantial decrease in phosphorus concentrations in the Carson River. Nonetheless, concentrations of total phosphorus and suspended sediment still commonly exceed beneficial-use criteria established for the Carson River by the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection. Potential sources of phosphorus in the study area include natural inputs from undisturbed soils, erosion of soils and streambanks, construction of low-head dams and their destruction during floods, manure production and grazing by cattle along streambanks, drainage from fields irrigated with streamwater and treated municipal-sewage effluent, ground-water seepage, and urban runoff including inputs from golf courses. In 2000, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), in cooperation with Carson Water Subconservancy District, began an investigation with the overall purpose of providing managers and regulators with information necessary to develop and implement total maximum daily loads for the Carson River. Two specific goals of the investigation were (1) to identify those reaches of the Carson River upstream from Lahontan Reservoir where the greatest increases in phosphorus and suspended-sediment concentrations and loading occur, and (2) to identify the most important sources of phosphorus within the reaches of the Carson River where the greatest increases in concentration and loading occur. Total-phosphorus concentrations in surface-water samples collected by USGS in the study area during water years 2001-02 ranged from <0.01 to 1.78 mg/L and dissolved-orthophosphate concentrations ranged from <0.01 to 1.81 mg/L as phosphorus. In streamflow entering Carson Valley from headwater areas in the East Fork Carson River, the majority of samples exceeding the total phosphorus water-quality standard of 0.1 mg/L occur during spring runoff (March, April, and May) when suspended-sediment concentrations are high. Downstream from Carson Valley, almost all samples exceed the water-quality standard, with the greatest concentrations observed during spring and summer months. Estimated annual total-phosphorus loads ranged from 1.33 tons at the West Fork Carson River at Woodfords to 43.41 tons at the Carson River near Carson City during water years 2001-02. Loads are greatest during spring runoff, followed by fall and winter, and least during the summer, which corresponds to the amount of streamflow in the Carson River. The estimated average annual phosphorus load entering Carson Valley was 21.9 tons; whereas, the estimated average annual phosphorus load leaving Carson Valley was 37.8 tons, for an annual gain in load across Carson Valley of 15.9 tons. Thus, about 58 percent of the total-phosphorus load leaving Carson Valley on an annual basis could be attributed to headwater reaches upstream from Carson Valley.

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