The Rio Grande, which forms the United States—Mexico border for much of its course, receives diverse pollutants from both urban and agricultural areas, most notably in the sister cities of El Paso (TX, USA)—Ciudad Juárez (CHI, Mexico). This study aimed to describe regional trends in water quality in waters near the El Paso–Ciudad Juárez metroplex and to examine the potential for water quality improvement through the use of a created wetland. Very few differences in nutrient chemistry were found among drains, canals and the Rio Grande, with the exception of elevated chloride and lower phosphorus levels found in the drains. Overall, chloride concentrations increased with distance downstream, likely due to concentration of salts via evaporation from irrigated agriculture. A wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) contributed substantially to total phosphorus and nitrate levels, which, together with ammonia, tended to exceed state criteria for water quality downstream of the WWTP outflow. The created Rio Bosque wetlands reduced nitrate concentrations in the water, possibly via denitrification enhanced by algae; algae increased in biomass as water flowed through the wetlands. However, the diversion of water for irrigated agriculture, resulting in the absence of water, and thus aquatic plants, in the wetland in the summer has limited the ability of this wetland to improve regional water quality.
Keywords: algae, Rio Grande, water quality, wetland