Water-Quality Monitoring on Lake Houston

In cooperation with the City of Houston, the U.S. Geological Survey collects, processes, and interprets water-quality, streamflow, and reservoir water elevation and capacity data. These data are collected to better understand the effects of urbanization in Lake Houston, a drinking water reservoir in Houston, Texas. The combined monitoring efforts of Lake Houston and the associated watershed increase the understanding of the effects of natural and controlled inflows, nutrient and sediment loads, and water-column structure on the chemistry and biology of Lake Houston.

Real-Time Continuous Monitoring

Since 2005, two USGS monitoring stations in the Lake Houston watershed evaluate the effects of watershed influences and in-lake processes on Lake Houston water quality. These continuous water-quality monitoring stations are located in both the rural and the urbanized portions of the watershed. The real-time floating monitoring stations provide:

  • Hourly water quality data, including temperature, conductance, pH, dissolved oxygen and turbidity.
  • Real-time notification of water-quality changes in Lake Houston.
  • Water treatment facility operators the real-time data required to make informed decisions when adjusting treatment methods in response to changing environmental conditions.

Using the Data

The interactive graph below shows turbidity measured at three real-time water quality monitoring locations within the watershed. Typical and elevated turbidity ranges can be explored for all three water-quality locations to explore how changes in turbidity move through the watershed. Results are used to better understand fluctuations of water quality concentrations and loads during changing seasons and flow conditions. Turbidity, for example, can be used as an indicator for the presence of suspended sediment or algae in the lake that may cause taste and odor problems. As shown on the graph, low turbidity or base-flow conditions are seasonal and are often be seen during the month of October.

Examples of elevated turbidity associated with periods of intense rainfall and high streamflow can be seen on the graph below during the following dates:

  • Memorial Day flood around May 28, 2015
  • Tax Day Flood around April 17-18, 2016
  • Hurricane Harvey from August 25-29, 2017


Typical and Elevated Turbidity

Left image: Typical turbidity at Kingwood, September 2016.
Right image: Elevated turbidity at Kingwood, August 31, 2017.

Left image: Typical turbidity at San Jacinto Dam, September 2016.
Right image: Elevated turbidity at San Jacinto Dam, August 31, 2017.

Left image: Typical turbidity on the West Fork San Jacinto River, September 2016.
Right image: Elevated turbidity on the West Fork San Jacinto River, August 31, 2017.

Typical turbidity images are from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA) Aerial Photography Field Office (APFO) National Agriculture Imagery Program (NAIP), September, 2016. Imagery available at https://datagateway.nrcs.usda.gov/.
Elevated turbidity images are from the Department of Commerce (DOC), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Ocean Service (NOS), National Geodetic Survey (NGS), Remote Sensing Division, August, 2017. Imagery available at https://storms.ngs.noaa.gov/storms/harvey/index.html#7/28.400/-96.690

Select USGS Publications

Simulation of the effects of different inflows on hydrologic conditions in Lake Houston with a three-dimensional hydrodynamic model, Houston, Texas, 2009–10

Scientific Investigations Report 2015-5153

By Samuel H. Rendon and Michael T. Lee

Lake Houston, an important water resource for the Houston, Texas, area, receives inflows from seven major tributaries that compose the San Jacinto River Basin upstream from the reservoir. The effects of different inflows from the watersheds drained by these tributaries on the residence time of water...

Methods for estimating concentrations and loads of selected constituents in tributaries to Lake Houston near Houston, Texas

Fact Sheet 2012-3026

By Michael T. Lee

Since December 2005, the U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the City of Houston, Texas, has been assessing the quality of the water flowing into Lake Houston. Continuous in-stream water-quality monitors measured streamflow and other physical water quality properties at stations in Spring Creek near Spring, Tex....

Regression model development and computational procedures to support estimation of real-time concentrations and loads of selected constituents in two tributaries to Lake Houston near Houston, Texas, 2005-9

Scientific Investigations Report 2012-5006

By Michael T. Lee, William H. Asquith, and Timothy D. Oden

In December 2005, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), in cooperation with the City of Houston, Texas, began collecting discrete water-quality samples for nutrients, total organic carbon, bacteria (Escherichia coli and total coliform), atrazine, and suspended sediment at two USGS streamflow-gaging stations...

Relations between hydrology, water quality, and taste-and-odor causing organisms and compounds in Lake Houston, Texas, April 2006-September 2008

Scientific Investigations Report 2011-5121

By Amy M. Beussink and Jennifer L. Graham

Lake Houston is a surface-water-supply reservoir and an important recreational resource for the city of Houston, Texas. Growing concerns over water quality in Lake Houston prompted a detailed assessment of water quality in the reservoir. The assessment focused on water-quality constituents that affect...

Streamflow and water-quality properties in the West Fork San Jacinto River Basin and regression models to estimate real-time suspended-sediment and total suspended-solids concentrations and loads in the West Fork San Jacinto River in the vicinity of Conroe, Texas, July 2008-August 2009

Scientific Investigations Report 2010-5171

By Lee J. Bodkin and Jeannette H. Oden

To better understand the hydrology (streamflow and water quality) of the West Fork San Jacinto River Basin downstream from Lake Conroe near Conroe, Texas, including spatial and temporal variation in suspended-sediment (SS) and total suspended-solids (TSS) concentrations and loads...

Continuous and discrete water-quality data collected at five sites on Lake Houston near Houston, Texas, 2006-08

Data Series 485

By Amy M. Beussink and Michael R. Burnich

Lake Houston, a reservoir impounded in 1954 by the City of Houston, Texas, is a primary source of drinking water for Houston and surrounding areas. The U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the City of Houston, developed a continuous water-quality monitoring network to track daily changes in water quality...

Regression models to estimate real-time concentrations of selected constituents in two tributaries to Lake Houston near Houston, Texas, 2005-07

Scientific Investigations Report 2009-5231

By Timothy D. Oden, William H. Asquith, and Matthew S. Milburn

In December 2005, the U.S. Geological Survey in cooperation with the City of Houston, Texas, began collecting discrete water-quality samples for nutrients, total organic carbon, bacteria (total coliform and Escherichia coli), atrazine, and suspended sediment at two U.S. Geological Survey streamflow-gaging stations...

Watershed influences and in-lake processes - A regional-scale approach to monitoring a water-supply reservoir, Lake Houston near Houston, Texas

Fact Sheet 2008-3033

By Timothy D. Oden and Jennifer L. Graham

Created in 1954 by an impoundment on the San Jacinto River, Lake Houston currently (2008) supplies about 20 percent of the total source water for the city of Houston. Houston historically has relied on ground water as the major source of supply. As a result of regulations to limit ground-water withdrawals because...

Water-quality assessment of Lake Houston near Houston, Texas, 2000-2004

Scientific Investigations Report 2005-5241

By Debra A. Sneck-Fahrer, Matthew S. Milburn, Jeffery W. East, and Jeannette H. Oden

Lake Houston is a major source of public water supply and recreational resource for the Houston metropolitan area, Texas. Water-quality issues of potential concern for the lake have included nutrient enrichment...

Streamflow, water-quality, and biological data for three tributaries to Lake Houston near Houston, Texas, 2002-04

Data Series 142

By Jeffery W. East and Debra A. Sneck-Fahrer

During 2002-04 the U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Houston-Galveston Area Council and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, conducted a systematic monitoring study on Lake Creek, Peach Creek, and Caney Creek near Houston, Texas, to assess the current water-quality and biological conditions in...

Water-quality trends in suburban Houston, Texas, 1954-97, as indicated by sediment cores from Lake Houston

Fact Sheet 040-02

By P.C. Van Metre and D. A. Sneck-Fahrer

Water-quality trends were assessed in Lake Houston using age-dated sediment cores. Sediments deposited in the lake contain a partial chemical signature of human activities in the watershed. Over time, a water-quality history is recorded in the bottom sediments. Although the sediments in Lake Houston are clean compared...

Estimated effects on water quality of Lake Houston from interbasin transfer of water from the Trinity River, Texas

Water-Resources Investigations Report 2000-4082

By Fred Liscum and Jeffery W. East

The City of Houston is considering the transfer of water from the Trinity River to Lake Houston (on the San Jacinto River) to alleviate concerns about adequate water supplies for future water demands. The U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the City of Houston, conducted a study to estimate the effects on the water...

Characteristics of water-quality data for Lake Houston, selected tributary inflows to Lake Houston, and the Trinity River near Lake Houston (a potential source of interbasin transfer), August 1983-September 1990

Water-Resources Investigations Report 99-4129

By Fred Liscum, R.L. Goss, and Walter Rast

Lake Houston, a reservoir completed in 1954 about 25 miles east-northeast of Houston, Texas, is a principal surface-water source for the city of Houston. The increase in water supply to meet future demands is expected to be accommodated by supplementing surface-water inflows to Lake Houston. The Trinity River is considered...

Light attenuation in a shallow, turbid reservoir, Lake Houston, Texas

Water-Resources Investigations Report 97-4064

By Roger W. Lee and Walter Rast

Results of measurements of light penetration at sites in Lake Houston near Houston, Texas, indicate that light-extinction coefficients during 1989– 90 range from about 2.49 to 7.93 meters-1 and euphotic zone depth ranges from about 0.61 to 1.85 meters. The coefficients are largest near the inflow site of West Fork San...

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