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Physical, Chemical, and Microbial Quality of Floodwaters in Houston Following Hurricane Harvey

  • Amin Kiaghadi
    Amin Kiaghadi
    Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Houston, Room N138 Engineering Building 1, 4726 Calhoun, Houston, Texas 77204-4003, United States
  •  and 
  • Hanadi S. Rifai*
    Hanadi S. Rifai
    Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Houston, Room N138 Engineering Building 1, 4726 Calhoun, Houston, Texas 77204-4003, United States
    *E-mail: [email protected]
Cite this: Environ. Sci. Technol. 2019, 53, 9, 4832–4840
Publication Date (Web):April 8, 2019
https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.est.9b00792
Copyright © 2019 American Chemical Society

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    Abstract

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    Hurricane Harvey brought more than 50 in. of rainfall to some areas of the Greater Houston Metro area (GHMA) starting on August 25, 2017; the Hurricane was also associated with damage to environmental infrastructure such as wastewater facilities, superfund sites, and leaks and spills from industrial and municipal facilities. This study collected post-Harvey water quality data in multiple streams for several weeks after the Hurricane. In addition to measuring impact, the study compared the observed concentrations of several physical, chemical, and microbial constituents and water properties to their historical counterparts in an effort to understand the water quality impacts of Harvey on the natural water systems within the GHMA. Unusual water quality findings such as low pH were observed that likely had acute and chronic effects on ecosystems including the loss of oyster populations in Galveston Bay. In-stream microbial concentrations, using E. coli as the indicator, were within historical norms typically reported for the GHMA. The observed levels of measured dissolved metals post Harvey, while relatively low, when multiplied by the significant volume of water discharged from bayous to Galveston Bay, meant the delivery of a substantial load of trace metals to the estuary. Specifically, the load in the particulate phase would be expected to accumulate and gradually repartition to the dissolved phase for a long period of time. Total metal concentrations, when elevated relative to their historical counterparts, could be associated with the presence of industrial activities. Overall, anthropogenic activities including the presence of hydraulic flood control structures, local runoff from industrialized areas, and active superfund sites were recognized as key factors affecting short-term acute water quality impacts. Watersheds with very little human alterations experienced minimal water quality changes and had relatively rapid recoveries post-Harvey.

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    The Supporting Information is available free of charge on the ACS Publications website at DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.9b00792.

    • Acute and chronic criteria for trace metals in fresh and saline waters for aquatic life protection (values in μg/kg) (Table S1); criteria for trace metals in water to protect human health (values in μg/L) (Table S2); summary of post Harvey trace metal measurements in freshwater (Table S3); and most recent measured historical trace metal concentrations at freshwater sampling stations and/or nearby stations (Table S4); measured specific conductance extremes (red circles: minimum and black triangles: maximum) following Hurricane Harvey compared to historical data from 1983 to 2017 for different stations (from upstream to downstream) in six water bodies compiled from TCEQ’s SWQMIS tool; the boxes span the interquartile range with the horizontal in the middle showing the median; the whiskers outside the boxes extend to minimum and maximum to represent the total range (Figure S1); measured dissolved oxygen (DO) extremes (red circles: minimum and black triangles: maximum) following Hurricane Harvey compared to historical data from 1983 to 2017 for different stations (from upstream to downstream) in six water bodies compiled from TCEQ’s SWQMIS tool; the boxes span the interquartile range with the horizontal in the middle showing the median; the whiskers outside the boxes extend to minimum and maximum to represent the total range (Figure S2); and correlation among pH values associated with released water from the reservoirs in Buffalo Bayou and the water in the Bayou (Figure S3) (PDF)

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