Water chemistry in rivers is impacted by a variety of natural and anthropogenic processes including agricultural runoff, urban runoff, storm runoff, groundwater inputs, and the built environment. In this study we used trace element concentrations (including As, B, Ce, Co, Cu, Li, Mn, Rb, Sb, Sr, Tl, V, and Zn) and continuous measurements of flow rates and specific conductance to investigate dynamic processes affecting water quality in a rapidly urbanizing agricultural area typical of the western U.S. The middle Provo River, located in northern Utah, USA, was selected as the study area because it is well instrumented with water quality stations and streamflow gauges. We sampled 6 sites on the middle Provo River and 15 sites on tributaries in the watershed a minimum of 5 times between April 2014 and March 2015 to evaluate potential contributions from surface water and groundwater inputs to the Provo River. Additional water samples were collected at 13 cold, thermal, and mixed cold/thermal springs in Heber Valley during summer 2014 to evaluate regional groundwater chemistry. Samples were also collected during two storm events including high frequency sampling in a tributary and road-puddle samples to characterize potential storm runoff chemistry. Specific conductance data loggers were deployed in tributaries to monitor effects of precipitation and other runoff on the middle Provo River at 15-min intervals. See Table 1 for a summary of sampling events. Middle Provo River water chemistry is impacted by natural groundwater inputs as well as surface water tributaries. Li, B, Sr, As concentrations increased dramatically (3-10 fold) downstream of the confluence with a major tributary, Snake Creek. Snake Creek had average As concentrations of ~15 µg/L above the confluence with Provo River and accounted for roughly 20% of the flow to the middle Provo River, but increased the As concentration in Provo River ~4 fold. Thermal springs had ~20 and ~80 times higher concentrations of As and Li, respectively, relative to cold springs and was found to be a major contributor of trace elements to Snake Creek and the middle Provo River. Cl mixing calculations indicated that groundwater contributions increased downstream with up to 15% of the flow to the middle Provo River being contributed within the most downstream reach. Tributaries were found to impact the Provo River based on specific conductance fluxes in tributaries corresponding to fluxes in the river. Notably, Spring Creek, a dominantly agricultural tributary, accounts for >40% of the annual V load and >18% of the annual U, Mn, Pb, Ba, La, and Ce loads to the middle Provo River. The trace elements B, Li, As, and Sr which are found in high concentrations in groundwater, were strongly correlated with Provo River specific conductance and may indicate a potential method of predicting select trace element concentrations in the middle Provo River based on specific conductance data. Filtered puddle samples collected during a storm event had higher concentrations of Co, Cu, V, and Zn, but lower concentrations of major and select trace elements including As, Li, and Sr, relative to the middle Provo River. This study has implications for understanding water quality in complex coupled human-natural systems.



College and Department

Physical and Mathematical Sciences; Geological Sciences



Date Submitted


Document Type





trace elements, groundwater, agricultural runoff, urban runoff, storm runoff

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Geology Commons