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Fate of selenium in a small urban watershed


A field study was conducted on a small urban watershed (residential and golf course dominated) in southern Nevada to assess the concentration and speciation of selenium (Se) in a series of drain lines and monitoring wells and to quantify the mass discharge of Se from the drain system. Water samples were collected on a monthly basis and analyzed for total Se, selenate (SeO4 =) and selenite (SeO3 =). In addition, where possible, flow was assessed as was, temperature, redox potential, pH, dissolved oxygen (DO) along with all major cations and anions. The data were then modeled with PhreeqC to identify selenium speciation. Results revealed a SeO4 = dominated system with SeO4 = concentrations ranging from 13 to 62 ppb. In the monitoring wells, 66 % of the variation in the total Se concentration could be described based on depth to groundwater, temperature and sulfate concentrations (P < 0.001). In particular, higher total Se concentrations were predicted for shallower depth to groundwater, suggesting the solubilization of Se evapo-concentrates near the surface could be reduced by lowering water tables. The highest of all correlations was found between SeO4 = concentrations (↑) and the sodium (↑) and DO (↑) concentrations in the monitoring wells (R 2 = 0.77, P < 0.001). An excellent curvilinear relationship was found between total Se and the electrical conductivity in the water (R 2 = 0.73, P < 0.001). Based on the Se data and time line identified in this study, high concentrations of Se could be expected to drain from this area for many years to come, with salinity acting as a good proxy for Se concentration. In the drain lines, Se concentrations were found to be invariant to flow (P > 0.05). Flow discharge from the main drain system to the Las Vegas Wash was estimated at 559 acre feet during the 1 year study period. This flow was estimated to carry 4,203 Mg of salts 6.71 Mg of nitrate-N and 27.1 kg of total Se.

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We wish to thank the Bureau of Reclamation for funding provided through assistance agreement R10AC30018 to the Southern Nevada Water Authority and the cooperation of the golf course superintendent for allowing us easy access to the golf course during the study period. We also wish to thank Michael Steiner and Renee Schofield for their assistance.

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Correspondence to D. A. Devitt.

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Devitt, D.A., Wright, L.E., Shanahan, S.A. et al. Fate of selenium in a small urban watershed. Environ Monit Assess 186, 3181–3197 (2014).

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  • Selenate
  • selenite
  • aeration
  • salinity
  • drainage