Identification of Water-Quality Trends Using Sediment Cores from Dillon Reservoir, Summit County, Colorado

By Adrienne I. Greve, Norman E. Spahr, Peter C. Van Metre, and Jennifer T. Wilson


This document also is available in pdf format: WRIR 01-4022 (1.95 MB)

An errata for the published report was issued in December 2001
The errata is available in pdf format: Errata WRIR 01-4022 (100kb)
Data given in the appendix of this report are available in the "DATA" section of this site


Since the construction of Dillon Reservoir, in Summit County, Colorado, in 1963, its drainage area has been the site of rapid urban development and the continued influence of historical mining. In an effort to assess changes in water quality within the drainage area, sediment cores were collected from Dillon Reservoir in 1997. The sediment cores were analyzed for pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and trace elements. Pesticides, PCBs, and PAHs were used to determine the effects of urban development, and trace elements were used to identify mining contributions. Water-quality and streambed-sediment samples, collected at the mouth of three streams that drain into Dillon Reservoir, were analyzed for trace elements.

Of the 14 pesticides and 3 PCBs for which the sediment samples were analyzed, only 2 pesticides were detected. Low amounts of dichloro-diphenyldichloroethylene (DDE) and dichloro-diphenyldichloroethane (DDD), metabolites of dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT), were found at core depths of 5 centimeters and below 15 centimeters in a core collected near the dam.

The longest core, which was collected near the dam, spanned the entire sedimentation history of the reservoir. Concentrations of total combustion PAH and the ratio of fluoranthene to pyrene in the core sample decreased with core depth and increased over time. This relation is likely due to growth in residential and tourist populations in the region. Comparisons between core samples gathered in each arm of the reservoir showed the highest PAH concentrations were found in the Tenmile Creek arm, the only arm that has an urban area on its shores, the town of Frisco. All PAH concentrations, except the pyrene concentration in one segment in the core near the dam and acenaphthylene concentrations in the tops of three cores taken in the reservoir arms, were below Canadian interim freshwater sediment-quality guidelines.

Concentrations of arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, and zinc in sediment samples from Dillon Reservoir exceeded the Canadian interim freshwater sediment-quality guidelines. Copper, iron, lithium, nickel, scandium, titanium, and vanadium concentrations in sediment samples decreased over time. Other elements, while no trend was evident, displayed concentration spikes in the down-core profiles, indicating loads entering the reservoir may have been larger than they were in 1997. The highest concentrations of copper, lead, manganese, mercury, and zinc were detected during the late 1970’s and early 1980’s.

Elevated concentrations of trace elements in sediment in Dillon Reservoir likely resulted from historical mining in the drainage area. The downward trend identified for copper, iron, lithium, nickel, scandium, titanium, and vanadium may be due in part to restoration efforts in mining-affected areas and a decrease in active mining in the Dillon Reservoir watershed. Although many trace-element core-sediment concentrations exceeded the Canadian probable effect level for freshwater lakes, under current limnological conditions, the high core-sediment concentrations do not adversely affect water quality in Dillon Reservoir. The trace-element concentrations in the reservoir water column meet the standards established by the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission.

Table of Contents




Purpose and Scope


Description of Study Area

Tenmile Creek

Snake River

Blue River

Study Methods

Reservoir Bottom-Sediment Core Samples

Streambed-Sediment Samples

Water Samples

Data Analysis

Quality-Control Samples

Sediment Cores

Stream-Water Sampling

Reservoir-Water Sampling

Identification of Water-Quality Trends

Pesticides and Polychlorinated Biphenyls in Reservoir-Sediment Cores

Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons in Reservoir-Sediment Cores

Trace Elements in Reservoir-Sediment Cores, Stream-Sediment, and Water Samples

Summary and Conclusions

References Cited


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