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Applied Geochemistry


The Pecos River, situated in eastern New Mexico and western Texas, receives water from a drainage area of 91 000 km2. There are primarily two major water inputs, namely snowmelt from winter storms in the headwater region of the southern Rocky Mountains and runoff from warm-season monsoonal rainfall in the lower valley. The Pecos River suffers from high levels of total dissolved solids (TDS >5000 mg L−1) under normal flow conditions. This not only poses serious problems for agricultural irrigation and safe drinking water supply, but also results in a permanent loss of biodiversity. This study examines changes in stream flow and water chemistry of the Pecos River over the last 70 a to better understand the long-term variability in stream salinity and the role of agricultural practices in salt transfer. A TDS record from the lower Pecos River near Langtry (Texas) back to 1935 was extracted to show a distinct pattern of decadal variability similar to the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), in which stream salinity is overall above average when the PDO is in positive (warm) phase and below average when the PDO is in negative (cold) phase. This is due to: (1) the dissolved salts contributed to the river are largely from dissolution of NaCl and CaSO4-bearing minerals (e.g., halite and gypsum) in the upper basin, (2) the amount of the dissolved salts that reach the lower basin is mainly determined by the stream flow yield in the upper basin and (3) the stream flow yield from the upper basin is positively correlated with the PDO index. This further attests that large-scale climatic oscillation is the major source of long-term changes in stream flow and salinity of the Pecos River. On the other hand, there is also a strong indication that the rate of salt export has been affected by reservoir operations and water diversions for agricultural practices.


Selected papers of the 15th Annual V.M. Goldschmidt Conference held in Moscow, Idaho (USA), in May 2005.

This work was financially supported by grants from US Environmental Protection Agency and USDA CSREES.







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