Identify Causitive Factors to Manage Nutrients and Perchlorate in Lake Mead

Project ID: 1221
Principal Investigator: Chris Holdren
Research Topic: Water Quality
Funded Fiscal Years: 2004 and 2005
Keywords: None

Research Question

Nutrients and perchlorate in Lake Mead have the potential to affect water usability for nearly 25, 000, 000 water users in Las Vegas and downstream locations. The sources for these key variables have not been documented. The proposed research will identify and quantify phosphorus and perchlorate sources for Lake Mead. This information can then be used to make informed decisions on management alternatives.

Need and Benefit

Lake Mead has the largest volume of any reservoir in the United States. It supplies drinking water for approximately 1.5 million residents in the Las Vegas Valley. Water from Lake Mead is also used for drinking water, irrigation, and power generation by over 22 million downstream users. Lake Mead is also a valuable recreational resource and generates over 8 million visitor days of use per year.

A massive algal bloom in the Boulder Basin of Lake Mead in 2001 adversely affected water quality, resulting in increased costs for drinking water treatment and reduced recreational use. This bloom demonstrated the vulnerability of Lake Mead to increasing nutrient loads; however, there is no reliable information on the magnitude of nutrient loadings from different sources.

A research project initiated in fiscal year (FY) 2003 led to a preliminary budget for phosphorus, the key nutrient controlling algal blooms in Lake Mead. This research identified several data gaps that will be addressed in the research proposed for FY 2004 to lead to a final phosphorus budget for the lake.

Perchlorate, a chemical used in rocket fuel and explosives, was discovered in water in the lower Colorado River in 1997. The major source of this chemical was identified as Las Vegas Wash, which is receiving contaminated ground water from two former production facilities in the Las Vegas Valley. There is growing concern over possible accumulations of perchlorate in the multi-billion dollar agricultural industry that relies on Colorado River water for irrigation.

The approach used to develop the phosphorus budget will be used in conjunction with data on perchlorate levels to develop a perchlorate budget for Lake Mead. The procedures developed for this project should be readily transferable to develop budgets for nutrients and other contaminants at other Reclamation reservoirs.

Both phosphorus and perchlorate budgets will provide information to help focus future management activities for Lake Mead.

Contributing Partners

Contact the Principal Investigator for information about partners.

Research Products

Not Reviewed

The following documents were not reviewed. Statements made in these documents are those of the authors. The findings have not been verified.

An Analysis of Phosphorus Perchlorate Inputs to Lake Meads (final, PDF, 1.9MB)
By Chris Holdren
Report completed on June 03, 2014

Considered phosphorus and perchlorate
loadings from the four major inlets to Lake

Based on data collected by USBR and other
available data

Significant data gaps exist

ARRA Toxin Data (final, PDF, 235KB)
By Chris Holdren
Report completed on June 03, 2014

Toxin data report

Factors Affecting the Spread of Dreissenid Mussels in Western Reservoirs (final, PDF, 815KB)
By Chris Holdren
Report completed on June 03, 2014

• Reclamation had been using substrate sampling
to look for mussels since the 1990s
• Adult quagga mussels were discovered in Boulder
Basin, Lake Mead, in January 2007
• Reclamation's Technical Service Center (TSC)
started early detection monitoring in Lake Mead
in March 2007, and at other locations, primarily
along the Colorado River, in May 2007
• Reclamation found veligers along the entire
length of the Colorado River by May 2008, with
positive detections at most sites on the initia

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Last Updated: 6/22/20