Tracing the input and evolution of municipal water in springs and tributaries of the Bull Creek watershed, Austin, TX
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The conservation of freshwater resources is fundamental in supporting modern society and preserving natural habitats and ecosystems. Deterioration of water quality in urban landscapes and loss of municipal water to leaky water distribution infrastructure are two substantial challenges to water-resource sustainability. I examine the geochemistry of streamwater, municipal water, wastewater, soil, and bedrock from the Bull Creek watershed, a rapidly urbanizing watershed in Austin, Texas, to achieve a better understanding of the processes of geochemical evolution as anthropogenically-sourced water recharges natural systems. Urbanization patterns in the Bull Creek watershed have created a contiguous expanse of urban development that covers roughly two thirds of the watershed, whereas the remaining third is rural, enabling direct comparison between urban and rural streamwater from a single watershed. Results indicate that Na, Cl, K, and SO₄ in urban springs and tributaries are elevated more than two-fold in comparison with rural springs and tributaries. A comparison of Sr concentration and Sr isotopic composition for spring and tributary samples indicates that municipal water and wastewater provide a substantial contribution to the urbanized stream branches of Bull Creek. This water is reactive in the subsurface after it leaks from the municipal system, evolving via a pathway of water-rock interaction with limestone.